After the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declared a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples, members of the LGBT community began flocking to registries to make their unions official, revelers in New York converged on the gay rights landmark Stonewall Inn, and marriage equality campaigners found themselves in the unique position of being overjoyed at the news that their services were no longer required.
"It's pretty incredible," Cameron Tolle, director of digital action for Freedom to Marry, told BuzzFeed News. "I think we are the happiest unemployed people in the country right now."
Formed by civil rights attorney Evan Wolfson in 2003, Freedom to Marry has served as the most prominent campaign group in the fight for marriage equality, flying advocates and lawyers to battleground states across the country, lobbying lawmakers and a once-skeptical American public, and eventually helping to chalk up a series of legal victories that culminated with Friday's landmark decision.
"It feels great," Freedom to Marry's National campaign director, Marc Solomon, told BuzzFeed News. "What it really feels like is that America is finally welcoming gay and lesbian people into its vision of the American dream and into the promise of equality for everyone, and it feels profoundly great."
Solomon praised the members of his team for their commitment and dedication, but said that despite today's celebrations he hasn't forgotten the extreme effort it took to pull off this civil rights victory.
"It's been a huge amount of work," he said. "There has been a huge amount of angst. In the early days, when Massachusetts was the only state and it felt like we had all the leading Republicans and many of the leading Democrats up against us, the question was whether we could make this shift, make this happen, whether we could hold on to marriage equality in America. I felt I had huge amounts of responsibility on my shoulders and it was very stressful."
James Esseks, the director of the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project, echoed Solomon's sense of satisfied exhaustion.
"It has been a long, difficult, and at times immensely frustrating road," he told BuzzFeed News, reflecting on a series of "dispiriting" setbacks the LGBT movement suffered, including the "body blow" that was California's Proposition 8, which overturned the state's gay marriage laws in 2008.
"Many people say this happened really quickly, and public perception has changed fast, but people have been working on this for decades and it has taken all that time to make the change," Esseks said. "It's the cresting of a hill here, and it's been a long steep climb, and it feels amazing."
Solomon said the work had been immensely draining for his Freedom to Marry colleagues, most of who are members of the LGBT community.
"I think one of the key lessons is that while a civil rights struggle like ours has exceedingly lofty goals, the work to bring them about is a real slog," he said. "It's hard work physically, emotionally, financially. But all of that having been said, anyone who has been a part of this cause, me included, wouldn't give any of it up."
On Friday morning, the Freedom to Marry staffers gathered in their New York City offices to await the court's decision.
"At first it was a little surreal, sitting there at 9:55 a.m. and knowing that this thing that we've all been working for, we could win it all in the next five minutes," Tolle said.
Minutes of "surreal silence" followed, but when the announcement came through there were screams, tears, and celebration — before it was back to work. There were press releases to be sent, registry offices across the country to be monitored, and newly minted marriages to share with the world.
Then, for many of the campaigners, work will shift to the other battles still left to fight for the LGBT community, with anti-discrimination laws and transgender rights at the top of the list.
"That is our approach to a social movement: The job isn't done until it's done. And you keep at it," Solomon said.
Once their work winds down, and the Freedom to Marry offices are archived for posterity, Solomon said he plans to take a much-needed vacation. It may be a short trip, though — he said he has already been approached for "consultation" with groups working on everything from criminal justice reform, to gun violence prevention, to income inequality, to climate change.
"I've been at this full time for just about 12 years and it has been exhausting — exhilarating, but exhausting," he said. "But there's truly nothing else I'd rather have been doing."
The director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project is James Esseks. An earlier version of this article misstated his name.
David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.
Contact David Mack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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