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After gay marriage was legalized, the best thing happened: I lost my job.

The president of Freedom to Marry talks winning marriage equality and what's next for the marriage movement.

After gay marriage was legalized, the best thing happened: I lost my job.
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Modern Love

In 2011, after we won the freedom to marry in New York, I was finally able to marry my fiancé of 10 years in the city we called home.

At that time, I was president of Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage equality nationwide, and I had already been making the case for ending the exclusion of same-sex couples for nearly 30 years.


Me and my husband at our wedding in 2011. All photos used with permission.

In coverage of our wedding, I quoted the old Sy Sperling TV ad: “I'm not just the Hair Club president; I'm also a client.”

On June 26, 2015, we made it possible for all Americans to share in the same freedom to marry that my husband and I celebrated.

When the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the freedom to marry for same-sex couples a year ago, it reflected an epic transformation first in the hearts and minds of the American people, and then the law.

Winning in the Supreme Court was the culmination of more than four decades of work. It was a milestone globally — for all Americans, for the LGBT movement, and also for me, personally.

The victory brought affirmation, security, dignity, and happiness to millions: same-sex couples, our children, our parents, our friends and families. It was a vindication of America’s promise, a resonant example heard round the world of the United States living up to its human rights ideals. And the victory marked a resounding triumph for our strategy and campaign.

More than a million gay people are now legally married in the United States. That’s a hell of a lot of happiness and love.

For me, this triumph also meant that after 32 years of pushing, preaching, and pursuing a vision and strategy to win the freedom to marry, I was going to get a second act.

But before figuring out what that would be — What else do I want to do? What else can I do? — I plunged into fulfilling a promise we had made as we built Freedom to Marry: get the job done and then smartly, strategically, collaboratively close down.

From the get-go, we made it clear that while the work of this Freedom to Marry campaign was done, the work of the LGBT movement, and so many causes, is far from over.

Because we knew even a year ago that it would be crucial to build on the marriage victory, and to sustain and harness the marriage conversation that is the gift that keeps on giving, we didn’t just summarily close down. Freedom to Marry’s board and staff got to work, carefully archiving and sharing our resources, including the launch of a new “legacy and lessons” website that lives on at freedomtomarry.org.

Our staff on June 26, 2015.

We distributed the bulk of our remaining assets to key partner organizations, while dedicating a portion to launch a new Freedom to Marry Global Fund that is now beginning to advance the cause around the world. We helped place our A-team staff in other good-guy jobs, including with campaigns such as Freedom for All Americans, modeled on the Freedom to Marry playbook to secure nondiscrimination protections.

Then, we joyfully, nostalgically, proudly, gratefully shut our doors.

Freedom to Marry’s last official day was Feb. 29, 2016. On that Leap Day, I took a leap into a new chapter of my life, too.

Since my law school thesis back in 1983, I’d focused on why we should have the freedom to marry and why we should fight for it. Now we had won, and I was suddenly faced with the question (helpfully posed and re-posed to me by seemingly hundreds of friends and strangers): “What’s next?”


Me after the Supreme Court victory, at our offices.

One of the happy consequences of success is that many people want to learn how you did it.

I decided that for a time, at least, rather than jumping to take charge of a new thing, I wanted to respond to the many requests for advice and assistance I was getting from diverse movements, causes, and countries eager to share the lessons to be learned from our campaign.

In my new life chapter, I was determined, I wanted to learn and contribute even more widely — not just marriage, not just LGBT, and not just the U.S.

Now, I teach law and social change at Georgetown Law, and have an affiliation with Dentons, the world's largest law firm. I am called on to advise organizations on a wide range of issues: gun control, women's rights, reproductive rights, campaign finance, voting rights, environment, education reform, labor, animal rights, death penalty, and philanthropy. I also still assist with ongoing LGBT priorities, too (such as securing nondiscrimination protections, combatting religious exemptions, and assuring good lives, as well as good laws).

As someone who’s spent most of his career suing the government, it’s been a thrilling turnaround to be invited to work with several U.S. embassies in the last year as well.

I've met with local advocates and made the case for the freedom to marry in countries as diverse as Austria, Japan, and, most recently, Cuba.

We must pursue explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

At every level — federal, state, and local, and in businesses, and through legislatures, agencies, and the courts — a next priority, I said, for our movement is to pursue explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in important arenas such as employment, housing, education, and public accommodations such as restaurants, businesses, and, yes, bathrooms.

Advances and voices against discrimination and exclusion, through the law and through cultural embrace, help reduce the kinds of hate, fear, and exploitation we still see too often — whether in recent battles over anti-civil-rights legislation in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Indiana, or in the apparent pathology that a killer, armed with weapons of carnage, carried into a gay dance club in Orlando, ending 49 beautiful lives and shattering many others.

The Orlando shooting was a reminder of how much toxicity, how much vulnerability, and how much violence gay and transgender people still face in the U.S., and in cultures and countries around the world.

But listening to the friends and family members of the victims speaking so articulately and passionately at vigils and on TV, and seeing the solidarity among LGBTQ, Latino/a, and Muslim leaders, among so many others, is also a heartening reminders of how far we have come and what we can do together.

There is so much seemingly on the wrong track here in the U.S. and globally, and there is so much more to do.

Though I am no longer the Hair Club president, I am still moved by the people who every day share their journeys and stories of their lives and their weddings with me.

They show me pictures of their families, their children, and their friends, and I am gratified at the ways in which their lives have been lifted and their belief in the power of change restored by America’s living up to its promise.

Me and my husband at our wedding in 2011.

How wonderful to be able to offer proof that people can rise to fairness, that we each can make a difference, and that together we can make a better world.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less