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After Supreme Court win, LGBT activists look beyond same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015, outside the Supreme Court in Washington. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Two days after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in a landmark 5-4 ruling, an army of demonstrators with New York City's gay pride parade thundered down Fifth Avenue on Sunday, offering a new twist on a familiar protest chant.

"What do we want?"

"Marriage equality!"

"When did we get it?"

"Friday!"

Special Report: Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage
Activist reflects on fight for same-sex marriage

The episode, documented by the New York Times, reflected a movement at a crossroads. For at least a decade, the most visible, galvanizing cause in the struggle for gay equality was the fight for same-sex marriage. It drove the fundraising, nabbed the headlines, and helped change the way American politics and culture interacted with the LGBT community.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling on Friday, though, the fight for marriage equality is over, notwithstanding a few isolated pockets of resistance. Now, activists who have poured themselves into the fight for years are confronting a simple question: What's next?

The short answer: Quite a bit.

Many activists, leery of the Republican Party's embrace of "religious freedom" measures, are pushing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, and commerce. Some are working to secure greater legal protections for the transgender community. Others are working to draw attention or draw to the plight of LGBT youths, homeless people, and elderly people.

Some who saw fight for marriage equality as a distraction, even a mark of privilege, are hopeful that more underplayed elements of the struggle for LGBT equality will now get the airing they deserve.

There are, it seems, no shortage of causes to which LGBT activists are devoting their attention. And as America's rapid evolution on the marriage issue will attest, this is a community that plays to win.

Here, in their own words, four foot soldiers in the fight for LGBT equality tell CBS News what Friday's Supreme Court ruling meant for them - and what's next.

Interviews have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

"It's so important to connect our victory to the road ahead"

Attorney Evan Wolfson is seen at his office at the Freedom to Marry organization in New York June 25, 2015. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Evan Wolfson is a civil rights attorney and the founder and director of Freedom to Marry, a non-profit organization dedicated to securing marriage equality for gay couples nationwide.

CBS News: How long have you been working on the fight for LGBT equality?

Wolfson: It's been 32 years since I wrote my law school thesis in 1983 arguing that we should be fighting for the freedom to marry, because marriage is important, and because it would be allow us to claim the vocabulary of love and commitment that would transform non-gay peoples' understanding of who gay people are.

Would you say same-sex marriage was the dominant focus of the LGBT rights movement over the last few years?

The movement has been working on many things and on many fronts, but I pushed the marriage issue because I believed it could be an engine of transformation. And it proved to be the galvanizing, driving cause to which both gay and non-gay people responded.

We've been working on many important things all along. Even I, someone who's perhaps more identified with the marriage fight than anyone else, also worked on other things during this period. But marriage is extremely powerful, and it really inspired people to come into the conversation and succeed in the biggest way possible.

How did you feel, personally and professionally, when the decision came down on Friday?

My overwhelming feeling was jubilation and pride and happiness. Throughout the day, people were texting and tweeting me pictures of their family, talking about how happy they were. I was awash in all of these messages conveying this happiness and pride and wonder that so many people felt.

I found myself crying as I read the decision. I thought it was due to the memories it triggered of the struggle through the years, but I realized later it was also some relief - even though I always believed we would win, I really was ready for the victory now, and I was so happy to have it.

Where do you think the movement goes from here? What's the next frontier?

It's so important to connect our immense, transformative victory to the important work ahead, and I laid out important steps in a recent op-ed I wrote.

How same-sex marriage ruling may impact politics and society

First, we have a tremendous opportunity now to harness the power of this marriage conversation to the work ahead. We have now won the freedom to marry, as a matter of law throughout the country. But the conversation about gay couples and our families and values that sparked empathy has only just arrived now in so many parts of the country.

Second, a top priority for our movement needs to be passing a federal civil rights law that would prohibit discrimination broadly on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It would cover employment, housing, the right to be be served in public spaces, and more. We need to pass state and local measures providing non-discrimination as well, because they can serve as building blocks to move toward a federal law.

Third, we don't just want good laws, we want good lives. It's not just about the legal and political work, important as that is, it's really about making sure young people are safe and supported and free to dream big in every part of the country without facing homelessness or bullying. It's about making sure seniors are able to age with dignity rather than being driven back into the closet because there are no facilities for them.

What do you make of the response from same-sex marriage foes to Friday's ruling?

You're now seeing the very familiar right wing tactic of trying to carve religious refusals into the law in order to subvert the civil rights advances that they failed to block. This is a typical tactic that the country has seen again and again. This is the tried and true resort of those who oppose civil rights laws. When they fail to block them, then they try to subvert them. Fortunately the American people are onto it.

Where will you personally focus your activism in the years ahead?

We've now won in the campaign that I led, and my campaign will shut down over the next couple of months. I know my "A-Team" staffers will be able to find valuable work that puts their considerable talents to use, because the work of our movement is far from over.

As for Freedom to Marry, I think we will soon begin a smart, strategic wind down over a period of months. I would expect by early next year we will formally shut down.

Personally, I want to allow myself some time to figure out who am I when I'm not "Mr. Marriage." I want to explore ways I can contribute, what excites me, and I hope the job offers do come in. But I'm not there yet.

"Allow those who have been marginalized to lead the way"

GetEqual co-director Angela Peoples (L) demonstrates in front of the Supreme Court on April 28, 2015, the day the court heard arguments in a case regarding same-sex marriage. Jamie McGonnagal

Angela Peoples is the co-director of GetEqual, an organization that champions "bold action to demand full legal and social equality" for the LGBTQ community.

CSB News: How long have you been working on the fight for LGBT equality?

Peoples: In 2012, I started organizing with the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club here in Washington, D.C., but I was working on college campuses for several years before that.

Would you say same-sex marriage was the dominant focus of the LGBT rights movement over the last few years?

It has dominated the conversation, and that has a lot to do with who is leading the conversation. So many organizations that members of Congress are consulting on LGBTQ issues are led by white, cisgender* male people who don't share the same experiences that the majority of LGBTQ people face.

At times the marriage fight has been almost a distraction. There are many issues and needs that LGBTQ folks are dealing with - the reality is LGBTQ folks are black, they're immigrants, they're undocumented, they're poor, they're unemployed. Yes, marriage is helpful, but for a lot of people, the other elements of inequality have a deeper impact on our day to day lives than the question of marriage.

*The Term "cisgender" refers to people whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Hear what transgender means to me

How did you feel, personally and professionally, when the decision came down on Friday?

To be honest, I was pretty conflicted on Friday, because I worried that the movement was too focused on marriage. So many resources -- time, money, energy -- have been focused on this particular issue, I was concerned that these resources would go away.

Still, I recognize it's a huge moment to celebrate, and it's a huge victory, and not just for folks who want to have their marriage sanctioned by the state. It was a victory for everyone who came out in the last several decades to say, "This is who I am. I'm a part of your family, your, your coworker." This was a huge victory and a vindication for those people.

Where do you think the movement goes from here? What's the next frontier?

I think the next frontier is full equality and liberation. GetEqual did a series of listening sessions around the country last year, and the result of that was an LGBTQ bill of rights.

We need movement on the treatment of LGBT folks in criminal justice system. We need movement on the way that religion is still used to keep LGBTQ folks from accessing resources. We need to talk about a pathway to full legal status for LGBTQ immigrants.

I hear people say, "Marriage equality took decades, so these other things will take time as well." We think that's a false narrative. We need protections and equal access, and we need it urgently.

Do you think the fight for rights for transgender people will absorb a lot of this activist energy?

Trans people, especially trans women of color, have been leading this fight for many years. And because things like marriage equality have gotten the most attention, it's easy to feel like the conversation around trans issues is just emerging, but some people have been fighting this fight for a long time.

There is an opportunity, though, for the needs of trans people to be at the center of the LGBTQ agenda moving forward, but the only way that will happen is for the folks who have been leading the movement thus far to take a step back. They need to recognize that who they are, and what they view as the LGBT community, cannot be the dominant narrative, because it leaves out so many other folks who are in desperate need of access and support.

This will be a hard conversation - for folks leading the Human Rights Campaign and other prominent organizations to say, "Let me take a step back in order to allow those who have been marginalized to lead the way." But it needs to happen.

"There is no LGBT equality if trans equality isn't at the forefront of it"

(L-R) Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Carlos Maza, LGBT Program Director at Media Matters for America, Hannah Elyse Simpson, a transgender activist, and Cherno Biko, Director of Finance and Operations at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, pose for a photo at 30 Rock in New York City. Carlos Maza

Carlos Maza is the LGBT Program Director at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog.

CBS News: How long have you been working on the fight for LGBT equality?

Maza: Professionally, I've been working on this issue since 2011. But I've been striving to make the world as gay as possible for decades now.

Would you say same-sex marriage was the dominant focus of the LGBT rights movement over the last few years?

The marriage issue has been extremely useful as a rallying tool but also extremely problematic, in that it was almost too successful. That's reflected in the frustrations of a lot of activists who were parts of groups within the LGBT community who wouldn't benefit directly from the marriage fight. They worried we were expending too much time, energy, and money on this issue, and that the fight over marriage was crowding out concerns about more basic legal protections like non-discrimination laws and protections for transgender people. They wanted to draw attention to issues that affect more marginalized sections of the LGBT community - homeless youth, the poor, the elderly.

The Supreme Court and the "dignity" of same-sex marriage

How did you feel, personally and professionally, when the decision came down on Friday?

It was a weird morning, because so much of LGBT work over the last few years has been defined by the marriage fight. It's kind of difficult to have to reimagine what LGBT activism looks like without this unifying rallying cry.

There was also a feeling of tremendous relief to be done talking about this. I have nerded out about marriage for a long time. I have written extensively about it, and I've enjoyed it. At the same time, there is so much more to talk about. It's a relief to be able to take this fight off the table.

Where do you think the movement goes from here? What's the next frontier?

The next phase of the fight for LGBT equality is an omnibus, full nondiscrimination bill that extends the same protections in the Civil Rights Act to the LGBT community. I would say the push for religious freedom laws on the right should be the foil for our work - ensuring nobody has a license to discriminate against LGBT people seeking housing, jobs, or equal treatment in the public sphere.

Do you think the fight for rights for transgender people will absorb a lot of this activist energy?

If we're really serious about nondiscrimination, we have to need to develop winning messaging around trans equality and put that at the center of our activism. That's gonna be a huge, long-overdue shift for a community of activists that's been rightly criticized for marginalizing and sidelining trans issues. It's a big moment of cultural reckoning, but I have faith that LGBT activists have awakened to the reality that there is no LGBT equality if trans equality isn't at the forefront of it.

Where will you personally focus your activism in the years ahead?

Given the nature of our work, a lot is tied to what the opposition does. We follow where the bigotry goes. Given the fight that's been dominating national media for the last year and a half, a lot of the work we do will focus on defeating religious freedom laws that create a license to discriminate.

Do you foresee any difficulties?

Marriage is a very happy, positive, proactive thing to talk about. Where nondiscrimination is concerned, you have to talk about it differently. It's kind of a bummer, and it's difficult to get people emotionally invested in protecting against something awful. It's easier to get them excited about something positive like marriage equality.

"We can walk and chew gum at the same time"

Adam Talbot, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, poses for a photo with Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in a landmark Supreme Court case that led to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. Adam Talbot

Adam Talbot is a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a group that describes itself as the "largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans."

CBS News: How long have you been working on the fight for same-sex marriage?

About 3 years.

Would you say same-sex marriage was the dominant focus of the LGBT rights movement over the last few years?

I don't know that I would agree with that. One of the great strengths of this movement is that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We're also a movement that recognizes progress on one issue leads to progress on other issues.

One thing this decision means is that for the first time in a lot of states in this country, people who have waited for 30, 40, or 50 years now have the opportunity to get married. But in some instances, it will mean coming out publicly in their community at a certain time. So when they post their wedding photos at 10 am, their employer fire them at noon because of those photos, and their landlord can evict them at 2 p.m., because in most states in this country there's no statewide nondiscrimination law that protects them from that kind of action.

LGBT activist: Fight goes on after landmark marriage ruling

How did you feel, personally and professionally, when the decision came down on Friday?

It was incredibly exhilarating -- more to see people who are slightly older than I am, people who have been at this for many decades, who just stood there, shocked and mesmerized. It was almost a religious experience for many folks who truly thought this would never happen in their lifetime. I felt very lucky to get to be a part of their journey more than my own.

Where do you think the movement goes from here? What's the next frontier?

Marriage was a huge accomplishment. It does huge things for visibility and ensuring people have access to public recognition and security within the law. But what's ahead of us now is securing the two-pronged push for legal equality and social equality. Legal progress doesn't always mean people receive equal treatment in their own lives.

The Human Rights Campaign believes that the epidemic of anti-trans violence in this country is a national crisis, for example, and tackling that kind of violence doesn't come through passing new laws alone. It comes from tackling the root causes of that kind of discrimination - economic inequality, questions of race and other intersectional issues, law enforcement training, to name a few.

Do you think the fight for rights for transgender people will absorb a lot of this activist energy?

It's a matter of visibility. Whether you're bisexual, a lesbian, transgender, the greatest tool you have in your toolkit is coming out. Because when your neighbors know you, when your congregants and coworkers know you, it becomes much more difficult for them to discriminate against you. But it also comes with enormous risk too often, especially for trans people or gender nonconforming people. We're starting to get to a point at which transgender people are represented in media, but there's much more work to be done.

Where will you personally focus your activism in the years ahead?

I think it's critically important that, at the national level and states across the country, we have a conversation about nondiscrimination legislation -- particularly how it interacts with people who may feel personally uncomfortable with the progress of LGBT equality.

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