In November 2009, Love Makes a Family (LMF) closed its doors after accomplishing its core mission to win marriage equality in Connecticut. This success was due, in large part, to the efforts of Anne Stanback. In a celebratory video tribute, many of Stanback’s supporters reflected on her legacy recalling the LMF founder’s skills and the respect, admiration, and gratitude they felt for the woman who had helped make Connecticut a more just place. As a life-long champion of equal rights for women and the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community, Anne Stanback has tirelessly fought to right social inequalities at every turn. She has challenged the status quo with courage and conviction and a penchant for helping the disenfranchised.
Anne Elizabeth Stanback was born in Salisbury, N.C., on December 15, 1958 to William and Betty Anne Stanback. Her mother was a journalist and teacher, while her father was a businessman. Though the family enjoyed an upper middle class lifestyle, both of Stanback’s parents were active in the Civil Rights Movement, giving Stanback and her two brothers the opportunity to learn the importance of activism at a young age. A natural leader, both in academics and on the athletic field, Stanback graduated from Salisbury High School with academic honors and community service awards. She went on to attend Davidson College, and after graduating in 1981, moved to Connecticut to attend the Yale Divinity School.
Her academic focus on liberation and feminist theologies strongly impacted Stanback’s activism. She had always seen community service as the crux of her faith and her time at Yale and her exploration of religion provided her with a strong foundation from which to approach social justice issues, like the fight for LGBT equality.
In the early 1990s, Stanback co-chaired the original Connecticut Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights and helped lead the charge to pass the Connecticut Gay Rights Statute in 1991. The same year, she also became Executive Director of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League (now NARAL Pro-Choice CT). In 1993, she became Executive Director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), focusing on issues such as employment discrimination and family law matters such as the economic consequences of divorce on women and child support enforcement. During her tenure at CWEALF, Stanback was also a strong advocate for Title IX, speaking out on the inequality between men’s and women’s teams in areas of equipment and funding.
In 1999, Stanback helped to found Love Makes a Family in response to an unfavorable ruling from the Connecticut Supreme Court, denying adoption rights to a lesbian couple. Within two legislative sessions, Connecticut became the first state in the country to pass a second-parent adoption law without previous court action. Love Makes a Family officially incorporated in 2000 with Stanback as the founding President and with a new focus on marriage equality for same-sex couples. After many years of tireless work by Stanback and other activists, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on October 10, 2008 that it was unconstitutional to deny gay and lesbian couples access to this fundamental right. On April 23, 2009, the Connecticut General Assembly codified the Supreme Court's marriage ruling into state statute.
Stanback, the public face of Love Makes a Family, is an organizer’s organizer: hardworking and attentive to detail, strategic, kind, democratic, trustworthy, exceptionally competent, and gifted in the art of persuasion. With an issue often used to polarize, Stanback built consensus and was, by far, the single most influential person in the Connecticut marriage equality movement. Her dedication and visionary leadership was integral to winning the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in Connecticut.
Anne Stanback has received numerous awards and honors for her dedicated advocacy work, including the Harriet Tubman Award for Achievement in the Pursuit of Social Justice from the CT Chapter of NOW, the Maria Miller Stewart Award from CWEALF, the Polaris Award from Leadership Greater Hartford, and the William Sloane Coffin Award for Peace and Justice from Yale Divinity School. She now serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of Freedom to Marry Action, a national lobbying organization advocating for marriage equality for same-sex couples.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.