Gay Marriage

Gay Marriage Book Aims to Give Small Group of Connected Elites Victory for the War


History is written by the winners, but apparently only certain winners.
Penguin Press

The saying goes, "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan." But the Hollywood version of a victory doesn't have room for a thousand fathers, does it? Won't somebody think of the screenwriters, not to mention casting directors? Within the gay community, a just-released book has caused some fairly loud fractures by apparently reducing the entire work and battle for gay marriage recognition to a handful of elite people in positions of power and acting as though the struggles didn't begin until 2008, making a potential movie or documentary narrative nice and pat.

The book, Forcing the Spring, by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Jo Becker, was released on Tuesday, and the response from those who know the history of the gay marriage movement has been loudly negative. Major names in the gay community like Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, and Michelangelo Signorile have blasted the book for whitewashing the lengthy history of activism for gay marriage recognition that goes back decades, not just years. Journalists Chris Geidner and Lisa Keen, both of whom have lengthy histories writing about the gay marriage movement, have documented many of the problems with the book. Current Amazon reviews are not kind.

The book focuses mostly on the battle to strike down California's Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that outlawed gay marriage recognition. Opponents of Proposition 8 ultimately succeeded, but because the Supreme Court ultimately determined that the federal government had no authority to rule on the matter because backers of the initiative lacked standing, the win does not extend beyond California. It's the Windsor ruling, the Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, that's being invoked now to take down laws against gay marriage recognition in other states. Thus, trying to make the Prop. 8 fight central to the narrative creates a situation where those who were involved in this one battle are elevated over the many, many other people involved in the fight. Geidner notes at BuzzFeed in his analysis:

The book appears to have been carefully, but narrowly, fact-checked. It excels in covering the actual case, however, whether it's the 2010 trial in San Francisco, the four plaintiffs and their families, or any of the case-specific details. Becker fastidiously details every aspect of the preparation, trial, and appeals that the lawsuit took on its four-year path, providing information and insights never before published. She marshals the access she received from the Prop 8 case team and plaintiffs to provide a comprehensive and compelling narrative of an important piece of the marriage equality story in this country.

But Becker's reliance on the [American Foundation for Equal Rights] AFER (and, later, [Human Rights Campaign] HRC) team—primarily lawyers [Ted] Olson and [David] Boies, staffers [Chad] Griffin and Adam Umhoefer, and consultants [Hilary] Rosen and Ken Mehlman—is ultimately the book's downfall. Almost any contextualizing of the case is done by people with a vested and open interest in advancing the narrative that Griffin, with Olson's help, rescued a cause that Becker claims "had largely languished in obscurity."

Claiming that the gay marriage cause "had largely languished in obscurity" prior to Prop. 8 is just a crazy thing to say. Even if Becker looks only at California, Proposition 8, an amendment to the state's constitution, itself only existed because the California Supreme Court struck down a previous ban created by a previous initiative (Proposition 22) as unconstitutional on the state level.  

I've just picked up the book myself and am planning my own review. Because some of the critics of the book are so heavily involved in gay marriage debate and activism, I did wonder if there weren't some sour grapes from those the book failed to acknowledge. But here's how the book opens:

This is how a revolution begins.

It begins when someone grows tired of standing idly by, waiting for history's arc to bend toward justice, and instead decides to give it a swift shove. It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in the segregated South. And in this story, it begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year-old political consultant named Chad Griffin, in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.

This is just absurd. You don't have to be a major gay marriage activist or an insider to realize how wrong this opening is. You don't even need to be gay. You just need to have paid attention. But it makes for a great opening establishing scene for a movie, right? Just think of the casting opportunities for a handsome, bespectacled 35-year-old political consultant! I vote for Ryan Gosling.

NEXT: Steve Chapman on Democracy and Affirmative Action

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  1. Gay fight! Gay fight!

    1. This must be so exciting for you.

      I bet you’re hoping it turns out like this.

      1. I was thinking more along the lines of handbags and wigs at dawn.

        1. You’ve never seen drag queens fight? The wigs and earrings get taken off and then you’ve got two men in dresses punching each other.

          1. Also, apparently, the ritual for aging soul singers.

            . Onlookers say Labelle quickly removed her wig and earrings as she approached Franklin. Aretha, knowing that the removal of earrings is a tell-tale sign that a fight is about to ensue, attempted to prepare herself for the confrontation.

            1. I’m guessing there’s probably a lot of overlap between the fighting styles of dragqueens and aging divas.

          2. Occasionally really terrifying dudes in dresses. Reports after the Stonewall Riot included drag queens pummeling the shit out of police officers and ripping up parking meters to use as a battering ram to drive out the police officers who ended up barricaded inside the bar.

            1. I don’t think that transvestitism is a mental disorder, but try to imagine the, uh, prevailing attitude among men who cross-dressed when it was considered a mental disorder. Those are gonna be some dont-give-a-fuck guys. I wouldn’t hope that they were going to be gentlemen in a fist-fight nor want to be around them in a riot.

          3. A pair of drag queens who somehow made it into a party I was throwing started fighting and broke out a window. Once the wigs come off you should be somewhere else.

      2. How many of those 3700 views were you?

        1. Not nearly enough. I can’t find dates for this years Anatolian Cultural Festival online. I might have to go to Turkey this year.

          1. Dates? Do you really need more than 1?

            1. Everyone knows teh gehyz ca no more tolerate monogamy than vampires can tolerate garlic. Unless you invite them inside.

              1. Unless you invite them inside.


            2. No, as in the dates the festival is occurring. Not dates to bring to the festival.

              I am concerned that it might not be happening.

  2. Does Dick Cheney get any credit?

    1. I really like Cheney. He shot a lawyer in the face (and heart) and made said lawyer apologize on national television for getting in the way.

      He’s a lair and an advanced weapons lab away from being our Lex Luthor.

      1. His view on gay marriage is still more progressive that Obama’s. He thinks it should be legal, while Obama, as president, is “personally in favor of”.

        And he shot a guy.

      2. ^ This to

        Shooting a lawyer is worth like 100,000 positive karma points.

  3. It should be noted that on election night 2008, same sex marriage had been legal in Massachusetts for five years. Calling that “the start of the revolution” is like arguing World War II began with the invasion of Okinawa.

    1. Cheney was arguing in favor in 2004. When my Facebook feed went lousy with praise for Obama for coming out “personally in favor” of gay marriage, people really got upset when I pointed this out.

      1. That was the weirdest moment of the VP debate.

        Cheney: Gwen, you’re right, four years ago in this debate, the subject came up. And I said then and I believe today that freedom does mean freedom for everybody. People ought to be free to choose any arrangement they want. It’s really no one else’s business.
        And the fact is that the president felt that it was important to make it clear that that’s the wrong way to go, as far as he’s concerned.

        Now, he sets the policy for this administration, and I support the president.

        1. Aaannnd Edwards being a complete shitbag:

          EDWARDS: Yes. Let me say first, on an issue that the vice president said in his last answer before we got to this question, talking about tax policy, the country needs to know that under what they have put in place and want to put in place, a millionaire sitting by their swimming pool, collecting their statements to see how much money they’re making, make their money from dividends, pays a lower tax rate than the men and women who are receiving paychecks for serving on the ground in Iraq.

          Now, they may think that’s right. John Kerry and I do not.

          We don’t just value wealth, which they do. We value work in this country. And it is a fundamental value difference between them and us.

          Now, as to this question, let me say first that I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can’t have anything but respect for the fact that they’re willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It’s a wonderful thing. And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy.

          And I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and so does John Kerry.

          1. I thought John Kerry believed marriage was between a man and a woman’s money.

            1. I still think that he would’ve done better in the election if he’d threatened to discontinue Heinz ketchup. I would’ve voted for him just to avoid living in an America where Hunts was the default option.

  4. I love a good cat fight.

  5. California is the center of the universe, so what happens there is more important than what happens in other places.

    Do I even need to spell this out for you?

  6. Before gay marriage and especially before a few states started recognizing gay palimony, gay relationships were totally outside the law. This meant gay people were free to contract with each other and dictate the terms of their relationships in ways straight people were not. As a straight person, I can’t get out of the dictates of family law. Even if I don’t get a license, the courts will still declare my marriage a common law marriage and give my wife half my shit if she wants it. Before all this, if I were gay I didn’t have to worry about that. I am an old rich guy and want a boy toy and trade him in on a younger model every few years, no worries about him taking my stuff. Me and three of my friends want to form a polygamous marriage, we can. Our marriage isn’t recognized by the law so we can’t be guilty of bigamy. Hell, we don’t even have to divorce our wives to do it. Indeed, gays went out and did just this and created all kinds of personalized relationships. State sponsored gay marriage ends their freedom to do that and puts gays into the same family law cage straight people live in. Remember, once the state recognizes your relationship, you can’t escape its control.

    Libertarian to love the concept of marriage by contract and want to “get the government out of marriage” now argue that the constitution requires extending government control over marriage over an entire class of couples who were before this free of that control.

    1. …family law cage…

      After seeing what divorced friends of mine go through, that description is apt. Dear God, what a terrible process to be trapped in.

      1. It is. Family law is basically one giant restraint on freedom of contract. That doesn’t mean that it is necessarily bad. It is just what it is. All family law is is a set of conditions that are mandated upon every marriage.

    2. Re: John,

      Before gay marriage and especially before a few states started recognizing gay palimony, gay relationships were totally outside the law.

      Justin “” Raimondo has been arguing precisely the same thing, that to seek the recognition of the state only serves to increase the power of the state over people (in this case, gay people) besides allowing the more puritanical gays to stigmatize the freer sexual lives of most gay men. I don’t see state-sanctioned gay marriage as a right, but as furthering the encroachment of the state over the lives of people.

      1. The original public advocate for gay marriage was Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan is very socially conservative. He supported and supports gay marriage primarily because the wants to see other gays live more conventional and in his view moral lives.

        1. You may not realize how painful it is for me to have to defend marriage equality, as I’ve been watching Sullivan’s wishes come true all around me. First they came for the sex dungeons, and I said nothing, because I wasn’t into sex dungeons. Now a gay bar is basically a bachelorette party destination, and gays my age are settling down in *gag* suburbia with yards and dogs and the whole vanilla setup. It’s all very distressing, but you just can’t argue with equality under the law.

          1. It is equality of bondage Tony. I am not trolling here Tony. I am serious. Family law is built around the idea of getting heotro couples to marry have kids and stay together raising those kids.

            Understand, once you have gay marriage, you can’t opt out of it. The law says when you are married and what that means. i suspect gays are not going to like the results of all of this very much.

            1. No, you’re trolling. Did someone force you to marry at the point of a gun? Were you passionate about the “bondage” you feel you are suffering with your wife before the gay marriage debate started? Or are you grasping at excuses to be on the ignorant Christianist side of the debate?

              1. John has been pretty consistant of his hatred of family law on a lot of different topics.

          2. You may not realize believe…


      2. “the freer sexual lives of most gay men.”

        I thought that was a malicious, hateful stereotpye!

        1. I attended a gay marriage in San Francisco last week. Took place at City Hall. Lots of people getting married at City Hall while I was there — men & women, as well as women & women. However, I saw no man & man marriages. Odd that.

          1. Huh, I was at a man-on-man wedding last weekend.

  7. Fun to see Seattle’s Municipal C*rnh*le mad at someone other than religious school kids.

  8. No credit for the herosexuals who watch How I Met Your Mother?

    1. What about Golden Girls?


  9. You know who else won a Pulitzer?

    1. Dr. Seuss?

    2. Norman Mailer?

    3. Wait, is Walter Duranty the Godwin?

  10. This reminds me of a story… (flashback music)

    Back in 2004 there used to be a LaRouche office near mine, and I would often strike up friendly conversations in line at the coffee shop with a couple of LaRouchites. I kept my opinions to a minimum so that I could tease out whatever nutball stuff they were into that week.

    One day one of the guys says to me, “did you hear about Tenet?” The CIA director had resigned a week earlier. I nodded.

    He smiled and said, “that was us.” He could not have been more proud, and I just did my best not to look dumbfounded at his clearly sincere belief that his fringe cult had anything to do with, well, anything.

    Anyway, I could imagine this Chad Griffin saying the same thing, pointing to himself with smug satisfaction. “Did you hear about gay marriage? That was us.”

  11. Also, Obama freed the slaves.

    And that’s today’s history lesson. Now back to the Organic Salt Mines, all of you!

  12. It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in the segregated South.

    This is a major slight to all the civil rights activists Rosa Parks worked with. She didn’t just decide on impulse not to give up her seat, after all.

    1. Why do you hate women?

  13. When we decided to get married, in 1984, a gay colleague of my wife’s asked us (politely) to reconsider because she wasn’t allowed to. That was a year or two before 2008 as I recall, and gay activists were already circulating propaganda on the topic.

  14. Opponents of Proposition 8 ultimately succeeded, but because the Supreme Court ultimately determined that the federal government had no authority to rule on the matter because backers of the initiative lacked standing, the win does not extend beyond California.

    “You mean there’s something outside of California?” – Jo Becker

    This kind of reminds me of Clooney’s oscar speech. Where he claimed that Hollywood was responsible for the civil rights movement. Because in his self important mind, all those blacks in the South never started marching for equal rights until Hollywood told them to, or something. Same dynamic here, I’m sure. Self important assholes have to do something to feel more important than they really are.

  15. Just think of the casting opportunities for a handsome, bespectacled 35-year-old political consultant! I vote for Ryan Gosling.

    Surely, you would be pulling the lever for Gosling in whatever context, no?

  16. The struggle started in 1970 in the Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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