The Summit, comprised of LGBT leaders from the Philadelphia area, and Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania will join for a June 22 marriage-equally rally in the state’s capital.
The groups recently planned the March 25 rally in front of the James A. Byrne United States District Court in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.
Janice Rael, vice president of Delaware Valley Americans United for Separation of Church and State, founded The Summit along with Philly Family Pride vice chair Wendy Forbes.
Forbes and Rael said they decided to launch The Summit to push marriage equality on both a state and federal level.
The two reached out to leaders from local LGBT organizations in January, and the group has since met every six weeks to discuss issues regarding same-sex marriage, transgender inclusion, nondiscrimination efforts and anti-bullying legislation.
“It just happened naturally, as several of us who were friends on Facebook wanted to do more on a grassroots level,” Rael said. “We came together as a group and realized that we had organizing and leadership power.”
Forbes said Summit organizers used the March 25 event, which drew nearly 250 people, as a jumping-off point for their advocacy.
“We decided to do a local vigil because it is hard to get people to go to Washington, D.C., for a vigil. We decided we wanted to enlighten people on what was going on in the movement and so we planned a citywide vigil,” Forbes said. “Philly is a major city and close to D.C. and we should be supporting everything going on in local and national government. Philly gets left out a lot and we have a lot of great activism. It brought awareness and the community together around marriage equality.”
On June 22, The Summit and ME4PA plan to take a busload of local activists to the state capital to rally for marriage equality.
Rael and Forbes said the rallies were conceived by David Moore, founder of ME4PA.
“David is the one who started it. He decided to do a marriage rally in Harrisburg and bring awareness throughout Pennsylvania because we are sitting between states that are having marriage equality,” Forbes said. “There are people who are asking, ‘Should I move to Delaware or another state?’ because they are having children and their marriages are not recognized. The question is, will we lose our residents?”
ME4PA co-founder Joshua Szczesny said he hopes to have more than 1,000 people participate in the June 22 event.
The event will begin a few blocks from the State Capitol building, and participants will march to the building for speeches and other activities.
According to Forbes, the group is fundraising for one bus to travel to Harrisburg from Philadelphia with 49 seats available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Forbes and Rael said they have raised $500 so far and are connecting with local organizations to garner more donations for this, and potentially more, busses.
“We decided to take a busload of people down and gain momentum and bring great people who are great activists who can’t afford to go to Harrisburg,” Forbes said. “We are asking for $100-$200 depending on the organization to get the bus paid for. We have no funding, we are an adjunct grassroots organization.”
Marriage equality nationwide has seen a boost in recent weeks, with three states adopting marriage-equality laws in the last month, bringing the total to 12 states and Washington, D.C.
State Rep. Mark Cohen recently re-introduced a bill to legalize civil unions in Pennsylvania.
Although Forbes supports the notion of civil unions, she said her group would not stop organizing until marriage equality is a reality in the Keystone State.
“Civil unions are a compromise and obviously it is great for conservatives because they are little bit more OK with them,” she said. “I want full marriage equality in all 50 states, though. Will I take less? Will I take domestic partnerships? Sure, we have to protect our families. But I want full marriage equality on a federal level.”
Szczesny added that marriage equality is the ultimate goal.
“At ME4PA, we are not willing to compromise with civil unions in order to appease the religious right. The LGBT community wants full equality — no one is equal until everyone is equal,” he said. “We hope to raise public awareness not only in Harrisburg, but statewide to let every voter know we are not going away until we get the civil rights we are guaranteed under the 14th amendment.”
Organizers will also host a vigil in Philadelphia to coincide with the delivery of the Supreme Court decisions on the DOMA and Prop. 8 cases.
Information on that event will be released closer to when the decision is expected.
“Obviously we want it to go in our favor and either way we want to have a vigil,” Forbes said. “People who are watching the cases feel positive about them and to sit back and watch it happen, it will be an amazing day. If it passes, we’ll celebrate; if not, we will fight. We will be prepared either way. We might be out there dancing or we might be chanting.”
Current sponsors of the June 22 rally include Philadelphia Family Pride, Delaware Valley Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, the SafeGuards Project and attorney Angela Giampolo.
For more information, e-mail Forbes at firstname.lastname@example.org.