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ACLU hires two GOP figures to head $10 million campaign for marriage rights nationwide

NEW YORK – The ACLU has hired two well-known Republicans and set up a $10 million war chest to seek a 50-state initiative on marriage equality.

Steve Schmidt and Jimmy LaSalvia will be tasked to lead the nationwide effort for ACLU.

The "historic Supreme Court decision will pave the way for full equality for gay and lesbian couples across America," ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said. "But for a full civil liberties victory, we need broad-based support from coast to coast. That's why the ACLU is joining with Republican leaders to fight to end state-based limits on the freedom to marry."

With the goal of working both with and within the Republican Party, the ACLU bring aboard Schmidt, vice chairman of public affairs at Edelman who can often be seen on television talk shows, including MSNBC. Schmidt has provided strategic counsel to Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams and nonprofits.

Previously, Schmidt has worked on Capitol Hill as the communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, served as one of the top strategists during President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election and as a deputy assistant to Bush. Schmidt also directed strategic communications for the nomination of Chief Justice Roberts and led the nomination of Justice Alito. In 2006, he was campaign manager for the re-election of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and served as the senior advisor to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.

According to ACLU, Schmidt's role will be to help spearhead the campaign to strike down state-based laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. The campaign will, over the next four years, challenge legislative and constitutional provisions in states such as Illinois, Oregon, Hawaii, New Mexico and others. ACLU said it aims to spend $10 million through 2016.

As part of the broad-based effort to involve conservatives in the movement to encourage the freedom to marry, ACLU also hired conservative strategist LaSalvia. He is the founder and former executive director of GOProud and will work with the ACLU to do outreach to gay conservatives, particularly within the Tea Party.

"The Republican party stands for freedom, for limited government intrusion in our personal lives and for freedom," Schmidt said. "The issue of marriage equality is the Republican Party’s best chance to stand on the right side of history, create a meaningful legacy of fairness, and maintain relevance with young voters. I am proud to help the ACLU make all couples equal in the eyes of the law in all 50 states."

In February 2013, Schmidt, along with 74 other Republicans, submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of overturning California's Proposition 8.

Romero said he believes that ACLU now faces the unprecedented opportunity to achieve the freedom to marry, not just in typically progressive states, but throughout the country. "The key to our success will be to partner across party lines, and to champion the non-partisan issue of fairness in all of the challenging states that remain,” he said. "We will transform our country's landscape so that there is freedom to marry in every state."