History of Marriage Equality USA®
Marriage Equality, Inc. began as an idea in 1996 with a handful of activists who believed that same-sex couples should have the freedom and the right to civil marriage, and who were angry that the federal government wanted to pass a law barring LGBT people from this right. Marriage Equality New York was founded on 12 February 1998, on National Freedom to Marry Day. Connie Ress led Marriage Equality New York from 1999 until 2001. Another early leader of Marriage Equality New York was Cathy Marino-Thomas, who served the organization in myriad roles including that of Communications Director and President of the Board of Directors. Marriage Equality New York was granted status as a 501(c)(3). The MENY PAC, a separate national political action committee was also established.
The New York organization became so successful that activists in Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco, California, responding to that state's 2000 anti-marriage referendum (Proposition 22, the Knight Initiative), began Marriage Equality California (MECA). The primary activists involved in starting Marriage Equality California were Davina Kotulski, L.J. Carusone and Molly McKay, with the help of Connie Ress from New York. Molly McKay and Davina Kotulski quickly became nationally recognized public faces of the marriage equality movement, usually with McKay wearing a wedding dress which she referred to as her "battle garb". Kotulski coined the term "Love Warriors" which became used nationwide and was the title of a book she later authored about the marriage equality movement.
In 2001 Connie Ress and Jesus Lebron co-founded Marriage Equality USA® (MEUSA™) and Ress served as the organization’s first Executive Director until 2005. In 2005 Davina Kotulski became the Executive Director of Marriage Equality USA®, serving until 2007.
Meanwhile, in 2004 MECA merged with Equality California (EQCA), in the hopes of providing added strength to both organizations. The merger was unsuccessful, primarily because EQCA and MECA functioned using entirely different organizational structures. In 2006 the original leadership of MECA met with core grassroots activists who either had been involved with MECA prior to the merger, or who had worked with MECA and then with Equality California through-out the merger, but who preferred to do grassroots activism MECA-style, and voted to re-organize as the California chapter of Marriage Equality USA®.
After Kotulski stepped down as MEUSA's E.D. in 2007, the Board of Directors decided not to fill the Executive Director position, opting to function with a working Board to oversee the legal and fiduciary duties of the organization.
Between 2006 and 2010 Marriage Equality USA® expanded and established chapters in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, in addition to the existing 20+ county chapters in California. The organization also created outreach positions in the form of Community Liaisons to represent and work with specialized communities such as Parents, Seniors, Jewish, Communities of Faith, and Asian-Pacific Islander. (Please see Visit Chapters and Community Voices.)
In March 2009 new By-Laws were adopted and approved by the MEUSA™ Board of Directors. In August of 2009 Marriage Equality USA® became a registered 501(c)(3).
In the Spring of 2012 Marriage Equality New York (MENY) became a state chapter of Marriage Equality USA and the majority of the MENY Board of Directors was voted on to the national MEUSA Board of Directors. Cathy Marino-Thomas, President of MENY, and Dave Janis-Kitzmiller, President of MEUSA, joined together to serve as Co-Presidents of the new Board of Directors. The Executive Director position was re-activated and Brian Silva was hired to fill that position for Marriage Equality USA.