Dawn Euer, 34 | Social activist
Maybe it’s because she was a Girl Scout when she was growing up in Wisconsin, but community service just comes naturally to Dawn Euer. The Newport resident who firmly believes in equality for all people took a two-year position as deputy campaign director with Marriage Equality Rhode Island working behind the scenes to get the state to legalize same-sex marriage. That mission had a happy ending in August, when same-sex marriage was signed into law in the Ocean State. Euer has a law degree and was a founding board member of the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island.
Thank you for your work on marriage equality in Rhode Island. How did it feel when the legislation passed?
It was the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had. I started with Marriage Equality Rhode Island at the end of 2010, and in 2011 we had a bit of disappointment with the civil union legislation (a compromise measure that expanded the rights and benefits of same-sex couples without expanding the legal definition of marriage). The disappointment was so great a lot of people who had been working on it longer than I had wanted to step away. But I came on with Marriage Equality Rhode Island with a two-year plan that came to fruition. It was surreal but exciting.
What have you learned from this experience about what it takes to change entrenched beliefs?
On this issue in particular, it really is about changing hearts and minds. In the two years after the civil unions bill passed, senators who were undecided or were afraid of the issue took meetings with constituents and they started understanding them. Parents would go in and talk about their children, or couples would talk about the 30th and 40th anniversaries of their meeting. There is a very human side to marriage equality, and I think people tend to think of legal rights and benefits when they hear that phrase. All of those senators and representatives who had an open mind and sat down with people to have those conversations were very brave.