Marriage Equality New York Goes National, With Silva at Helm
Winning marriage equality in New York State did not happen by accident; it was due to a carefully planned and calibrated, multi-agency response spearheaded by Marriage Equality New York. After the win, MENY took advantage of the momentum they had grown to team up with other groups and become Marriage Equality USA, an organization working toward national marriage rights. And with full-time Executive Director Brian Silva at the helm, that is just what they intend to achieve.
"I think there has been a real sense of support from the community in response to MEUSA and the program we've been working on," Silva told EDGE. "That support has allowed us to put additional resources to our volunteers and to support and push the issue forward even quicker."
According to MENY Board President Cathy Marino-Thomas, the group came together in 1998, and had the foresight to brand themselves as Marriage Equality New York at that time. Marino-Thomas said that when some activists in California formed Marriage Equality California, a scuttlebutt ensued, and plans to merge with Equality California fell through, causing them to abandon the existing name.
The California group took on the name Marriage Equality USA, and "they ran their operation out of California, and we ran ours here," said Marino-Thomas. "Since their state's struggle for marriage equality has gone beyond the reach of grassroots activists and now only exists in the court of public opinion, and since we're finished with our struggle here in New York, we merged to work on marriage equality for other states."
This was almost the fate of the New York group. Early efforts to secure marriage equality under Governor James Patterson failed because they lacked a cohesive strategy. In 2011, said Silva, "we came together and acknowledged our mistakes, learned from them and used the knowledge the second time around."
MENY kept their grassroots structure, and found that while 20 years ago, no one would have dared utter the words "marriage equality," after meetings with individual legislators, approval moved from 30 percent support to 60 percent. The success played out because of the merging of small and medium grassroots organizations, and fully staffed LGBT organizations.
"It is important that people see that there's a place for everyone, and that everyone has a role to play," said Silva. "When we put them all together in New York, we showed that we could make it happen."
Silva has served as the volunteer interim executive director for the past year, and it is only thanks to the contributions of grassroots activists that MEUSA was able to fund his full-time employment. Marino-Thomas said that Silva brings to the table a wealth of experience in nonprofit organizing.
"He’s got the personality to talk to the grassroots folks, and the vision of what the organization can be," she said. "He turned our Wedding March and our gala into huge events, and was a leader on the ground during the struggle in New York, which made a huge difference. He ran petitions, did phone banks and more than proved his mettle in this area."
Marino-Thomas said that Silva has already reached out to Maryland, and did phone banks in North Carolina that pushed back the vote on Proposition 1.
"As of August 1, Brian will be full-time, and his efforts will be stepped up," said Marino-Thomas. "I can only imagine what he’ll do with that, since he’s done such an amazing job as a volunteer."
Silva said the first two orders of business are to finish integrating MENY with MEUSA, from merging volunteer databases and combining websites to logistical housekeeping. After that, he will work with four coalitions in Washington, Minnesota, Maine and Maryland, to educate people about the importance of marriage equality.
On Sunday, July 22, Silva and his cohorts celebrated the one-year anniversary of New York’s marriage equality win by booking a Sea Tea Cruise.
"It was a little celebration of our success over the last year," said Silva, humbly. "If folks appreciate what we’ve done, they can feel free to donate at the site."
For more info or to make a donation, visit marriageequality.org/donate