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Campaign kicks off for legal gay marriage in the southern U.S.

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The southern U.S. may be known for its social conservatism, but a new campaign launched on Feb. 24 wants to steer it in a progressive direction.

A national advocacy group launched a $1 million “Southerners for the Freedom to Marry” campaign, calling for rights to and government recognition of gay and lesbian marriage in 12 southern states.

Projects include media campaigns and field work in the region over the next year, aided by relevant state organizations.

The new campaign comes “at a pivotal time in the marriage movement,” says Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the national Freedom to Marry organization.

The South is home to hundreds of thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples – and to a majority of the nearly 50 federal marriage cases now underway in courts across the country. Our new campaign will give voice to the many in the region now ready to move forward, including clergy, business leaders, conservatives, and family members, to show that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry.

It isn’t just southern social restriction that makes the project focus on this area, though. There’s established need for the improvement there, the organization says in its press release.

According to 2010 Census Bureau data, same-sex couples raising children are more common in the South than in any other region of the country.

Serving as co-chairs of the project is a bipartisan group of 13 notables from the region, ranging from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) to civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

In a video promoting “Southerners for the Freedom to Marry,” Lewis says:

You cannot have rights for one segment of the population – one group of people – and not for everybody. Civil rights and equal rights must be for all of God’s children.

Ryan Wilson, executive director of South Carolina Equality, praises the project’s co-chair from his state.

Rep. James Clyburn has long been a champion for equality and fairness for all South Carolinians, and SC Equality commends him for joining this important campaign.

States included are South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia.

Each of those states’ constitutions currently blocks gay marriage, including recognition of such a marriage from any of the 17 states that allow them.

About 600,000 same-sex couples share households in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau, representing approximately one percent of all couple households in the country.

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