HRC Blog

The Beginning of The Movement

Post submitted by Joshua Friedes, Co-Founder Freedom to Marry Coalition Massachusetts 

State HouseI first got involved in 1997. Back then the organization was called Freedom to Marry Boston. In 1998, we changed our name to the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts (FTMC) and on the web we were known as equalmarriage.org. Many a car had our purple and white bumper stickers. We gave out tens of thousands of them over the years.  

We were a dedicated lot. The hope was Hawaii would secure marriage and then we would leverage the validation rule to have marriages recognized in Massachusetts, then that dimmed. Then there was Vermont. It was a major breakthrough and civil unions were born in America. Even as our equality was denied there was a growing understanding of our common humanity.

Twice monthly, originally meeting at the Wainwright Bank community room by Back Bay station, the steering committee of the FTMC would meet and plot our course. For years we would have dinner together after our meetings and we became a close knit, loving and argumentative family. 

We knew that religion was both our greatest obstacle and our greatest friend. Back then you kind of had to have faith when so many didn’t believe we wouldn’t see marriage in our lifetimes. Some of us didn’t. On the first National Freedom to Marry Day in 1998 we organized a prayer breakfast that would grow into the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry (RCFM).

There are so many stories to tell. Lane Bourn and his successful postcard campaign to get the Boston Globe to run announcements of our engagements and unions; Robert DeBenedictis developing a web based system that allowed us to run circles around our opponents as we told our stories to legislators in that new medium, e-mail.  Each year at pride Valerie and Jacqueline Fein-Zachary would wear their stunning wedding dresses they had worn at their Jewish wedding. They would wave to the crowd from my brother’s SAAB convertible and the crowd would explode as the idea of marriage would bloom in people’s minds. Our Annual Valentines Gala became a sensation.

But mostly day in and day out, year in and year out we would get people to talk to their legislators, friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and clergy in personal terms about their families and why marriage matters. No polling, no focus groups, but the most human of strategies: the personal. And yes we would talk about rights and benefits. Back then people—gay and straight--didn’t understand that marriage brought with it comprehensive protections. I gave over 200 talks in Massachusetts between 1997 and 2004 and many more interviews. Those were the days when the simple idea of marriage equality was newsworthy.

Mike Horgan and Ed Balmelli were two of our core activists and my closest friends in the Coalition. They became a plaintiff couple. They couldn’t be public in their activism anymore but every Sunday we would have dinner and Mike would update the Freedom to Marry Coalition website. On May 17, 2004, I was best man at their wedding. The rest of the day was a blur, but their wedding I remember as if it were yesterday. Happy Tenth Anniversary Ed and Mike. 

Josh Friedes left his job with the AARP in 2000 to become the first full time staffer for the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts. He served on the founding board of MassEquality and was the first board chair of the MassEquality Education Fund. After marriage was achieved in Massachusetts, Friedes went to Washington State where he worked on marriage until it became legal there in 2012. Friedes now serves on the senior staff of J Street.            

Thank you to the plaintiffs, GLAD attorneys, and MassEquality's coalition of 17 organizations that helped to make Massachusetts marriage a reality.

Read more from the Massachusetts blog series here.

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