Narrative in New Jo Becker Book on Fight for Marriage Equality Called ‘Absurd’, ‘Distorted’, ‘Deceptive’



To say there’s been a flurry of discussion around the release of a new book Tuesday on the legal case that challenged California’s Proposition 8 would be an understatement. The book, Forcing the Spring, by New York Times writer Jo Becker, has been thoroughly pilloried by many plugged-in LGBT activists and journalists this week, both publicly and privately.

Griffin_olsonWhile a few have attempted to cut Becker some slack for documenting some behind-the-scenes litigation and political strategies, most fault her for an approach that seems hell-bent on making Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and conservative icon attorney Ted Olson into the white horse heroes of an upcoming Hollywood docu-drama about How the Marriage Equality Movement was Won.

Hollywood movies do have a tendency to skew the historical record for audiences that have not been paying attention to the real world events; and, if it does come to the silver screen, Forcing the Spring will carry an impressive credential –that it was based on a book by a “Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist” (even though she co-authored the entry that won).

The intense negative reaction from the LGBT community to Becker’s book indicates the prospect that the marriage equality movement’s real history will be lost is very troubling to many LGBT people who have watched and been part of that movement. It did not begin with the Griffin-Olson lawsuit in 2009, but with individual couples as early as the 1970s and with veteran civil rights legal activists beginning in Hawaii in the 1990s.

SullivanConservative gay commentator Andrew Sullivan led the assault on Becker’s book this week. In his April 16 blog entry for his The Dish, Sullivan berates Becker for suggesting Griffin is on par with legendary black civil rights activist Rosa Parks. He dismissed the book as riddled with “jaw-dropping distortion,” such as Becker ‘s claim that the marriage equality movement “for years had largely languished in obscurity.”

Sullivan’s assault was joined quickly by an impressive string of critiques: writer-activist Dan Savage (“a bulls–t ‘history’ of the movement for marriage equality”), former New York Times columnist Frank Rich (“For a journalist to claim that marriage equality revolution began in 2008 is as absurd as saying civil rights struggle began with Obama.”), and White House strategist Jim Messina.

Becker offered a defense against the criticism, explaining to that she hadn’t tried to write a definitive history of the marriage equality movement or the “gay rights” movement.

“Many people have contributed to the success the movement has experienced. I have the [utmost] respect for all the people who contributed to that success,” wrote Becker. “My book was not meant to be a beginning-to-end-history of the movement. It’s about a particular group of people at an extraordinary moment in time, and I hope that people will be moved by their stories.”

Unfortunately, her intro to the book and the slick public relations material sent out to promote that book proclaim otherwise.

On page 1 of the book, she writes that the marriage equality “revolution… begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year-old political consultant named Chad Griffin….” Her own summary of the book calls it is “the definitive account of the fight to win the rights of marriage and full citizenship for all….” And the Penguin Press release that accompanies review copies of the book calls it, “A deeply insightful and riveting account of a national civil rights struggle….” It quotes such celebrity legal commentators as Jeff Toobin as saying the book is “a superb, behind-the-scenes account of the legal battle to bring marriage equality to the nation.” The NAACP’s former president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, calls it “the definitive account of one of the great civil rights struggles of our times.”

This is the kind of hype that accompanies many books. It’s how publishers, in a very competitive environment, woo attention and favorable comments from reviewers, television talk shows, and other vehicles in a position to stoke book sales.

But critics of Forcing the Spring take issue with the book beyond the exaggeration of its marketing campaign.

D_blackForcing the Spring just doesn’t get it right,” writes BuzzFeed legal reporter Chris Geidner. He notes that Becker quotes Hollywood screenwriter Dustin Lance Black as being rebuffed by an audience of potential LGBT major donors to the litigation organized by Griffin’s American Foundation for Equal Rights. Becker also reports that the donor meeting’s organizer, Tim Gill, “denounced Black outright.” Geidner provides a link to a video of the closed-door meeting about which Becker was writing that shows Black’s speech was interrupted with applause five times, and won a standing ovation from at least a few in the audience. And Geidner says Gill’s alleged denouncement of Black was “more of a nuanced defense of ‘gradualism’” strategy for winning marriage equality.

Hollywood movies require conflict and struggle, and it may be that the book –whose inside cover touts it as a “gripping behind-the-scenes narrative with the lightning pace of the greatest legal thrillers”– fell prey to the need to dramatize some hurdles for her heroes to overcome. A more journalistic approach might have conveyed the mixed reaction of Black’s audience and contrasted that with Black’s personal interpretation of how he was received.

It also would have been helpful for Becker to have talked in some depth with LGBT legal activists who have been working on the marriage equality movement for many years.

A number of LGBT legal activists have pointed out significant factual errors in Becker’s account as reported by the press thus far (none had received a copy of the book in advance) and expressed astonishment at her cavalier pronouncement that the marriage equality movement had been “languishing” in “obscurity” before Griffin and Olson came along.

Becker wrote that LGBT legal activists planned to win marriage equality in 30 states before filing a federal lawsuit.

“Lambda Legal did not have a strategy of getting to 30 states with marriage equality (or any particular number for that matter) before we would consider bringing a federal case,” said Lambda Legal’s Jon Davidson.    

KaplanBecker’s portrayal of Roberta Kaplan (right), attorney to Edith Windsor in the Supreme Court case that struck down the key provision of DOMA, as an “outsider” to the establishment legal activists was also widely disputed.

“Robbie was not an outsider,” said GLAD spokeswoman Carisa Cunningham. “She had worked for the ACLU for years, just as she did on Edie’s case. She also worked with Lambda on the New York marriage case, Hernandez.”

Becker was not hired by the movement to write its history. If she and her book promoters had just been a little more careful to pitch the book as a behind-the-scenes picture of the Proposition 8 litigation, the hue and cry might not be so harsh as it is.

The drama achieved by portraying the marriage equality movement pre-Griffin-Olson as “languishing” and “obscurity” extracts a price from Becker’s credentials. For LGBT people, the Baehr v. Miike trial in Honolulu and its subsequent legal victories –and even its political defeats, including passage by the U.S. Congress of the Defense of Marriage Act– warrant neither of those dismissive assessments. There ensued an intense political war over marriage equality on state ballots around the country beginning in 1998, and, while supporters of same-sex marriage lost those battles, they came back with a steady, methodically planned and executed series of legal challenges that won civil unions in Vermont in the late 1990s and marriage equality in Massachusetts in 2003.

And just a month before Griffin and Olson first joined that battle with the filing of the Proposition 8 lawsuit, Lambda Legal won a unanimous victory in Iowa. The decades of cultural and legal combat opened up the country to a conversation that became both personal and national and moved public opinion. The Proposition 8 case was definitely part of that effort and, near the last paragraph of her book, Becker tempers her assessment of the Griffin-Olson effort as having brought the dream of equality “within reach.”

The Proposition 8 litigation enabled same-sex couples in California to be married, and other political activists and lawsuits have won marriage equality in more than a dozen other states. The legal team of Olson and David Boies is back at work with a case in the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and other legal teams have similarly situated cases in other federal appeals courts. Each is hoping to win marriage equality for all states. Almost certainly, one of them will succeed. But the credit will belong to the many, not the few.

© copyright 2014 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.


  1. poorblackblindlesbianwoman says

    I’ll always remember my great aunt who lived during the 1920s in Harlem as an out lesbian woman. When I last saw her, in 1990, she said that “living in the life” with her wife was the best experience of her life.

    We may not have had legal recognition, but gay and lesbian people have been living in marriage for a long, long time. It’s saddening when hacks try to diminish our collective experience and struggles to a narrow media-filled time frame.

  2. David From Canada says

    As a Canadian, I am not familiar with Jo Becker, and from I’ve heard and read, I don’t want to be, either. Not interested in her book…….

  3. No Backbiters Allowed says

    “The intense negative reaction from the LGBT community to Becker’s book…”

    The community’s reaction is not ‘negative’–this is a nonsensical, agenda-driven fiction.

    Andrew Sullivan, Evan Wolfson, Dan Savage, Chris Geidner and a handful of other petty, embittered do-nothing queens have yelped and shrieked that they didn’t get as much mention as they felt deserved, or that they weren’t consulted for their persecptive. But they do NOT represent the LGBT commmunity. Rather, they represent their OWN careers.

    They attack Becker’s book for failing to do what it never set out to do–cover the entire historical arc of the Equality Movement. But the content of their criticisms makes it crystal clear that they are offended that their own self-perceived contributions to the struggle for LGBT rights wasn’t given more coverage. Becker was not attempting to tell THEIR stories. She was recounting Griffin’s, Olson’s, and Boies’, and Black’s experiences.

    Sullivan is a writer. He’s written several books. He should write his own story, to make sure he gets the starring role he feels he so obviously deserves. Same for Dan Savage. Stop tearing down someone else’s work simply because it doesn’t flatter you. WRITE YOUR OWN DAMNED STORIES!

    This is the purest, most infantile example of petty jealousy imaginable at a time when the true battle is for equality is far from over, and far from won. These whining queens should focus their wrath on the REAL opponents of equality, rather than sniping and backbiting with allies for credit.

    Andrew Sullivan is dead to me as a credible voice in the LGBT movement, and every time he opens his infected mouth from here on out, I will fiercely ignore him. As far as I’m concerned he has contributed nothing positive to the LGBT movement in the last 10 years. He should stick to the bathhouses and the barebacking websites.

  4. With My Own Eyes says

    “Geidner provides a link to a video of the closed-door meeting about which Becker was writing that shows Black’s speech was interrupted with applause five times, and won a standing ovation from at least a few in the audience….”

    I watched the link for myself. With my own eyes. I don’t need Geidner’s deliberate mischaracterizations of what happened. The applause for Black is barely polite, quite tepid, FAR from the entire room. Plus, you can’t see the audience to know whether their arms were crossed or not, or what the expressions on their faces were. Geidner attempts to claim that Black received a standing ovation at the end of the speech, the only thing you can see from the video is a couple of heads popping up in the front row. If anything, the video tends to corroborate Becker’s account of Black’s recollection FAR more than to refute it.

    It’s clear that Geidner is attempting to misuse a video to attack Becker, figuring that most people won’t actually watch it. He completely misrepresents the content of the video and attempts to contort an ambiguous audience response into something far more enthusiastic.

    Conclusion: Geidner is not a reliable journalist, and anything I read from him in the future will take the distortions in this story into account.

  5. VitalPocket says

    NO BACKBITERS ALLOWED and WITH MY OWN EYES are the same person. Both have the same naming style, the same heckling that could all fit into one post without seeming at all incongruous, and both clearly didn’t read the whole article. They read it diagonally at best.

    Jo Becker: Now this here’s a true story that I just made up!

  6. JeffNYC says

    Hey NO BACKBITERS ALLOWED–you have no right to call Evan Wolfson a “petty, embittered do-nothing queen.”

    No right.

    And no credibility.

    Besides, he has refrained from commenting on Becker’s treatment of his work, so you just sound silly accusing him of “yelping and shrieking.”

  7. Randy says

    Please. Jo Becker didn’t write the whole history of the marriage movement, but she makes it clear that the movement didn’t even start until Chad Griffen entered the scene. There were many, many more people who worked to moved the movement forward. Of course, there were a lot of losses in the beginning — any movement of this magnitude starts out with losses, not wins.

    There has been no reporter gay or straight, who has been more diligent, hard working, or analytical than Chris Geidner, to dismiss means you haven’t been folowing the movement at all. any one who dismisses him has no credbiility whatsoever.

  8. Randy says

    Any discussion of marriage equality in the US necessarily must discuss marriage equality in Canada, which influenced the activism and the courts in the US, starting with the June 10, 2003 Court of Appeal for Ontario decision in Halpern v. Canada, which brought marriage equality to a North American region for the first time.

  9. miko says

    “The intense negative reaction from the LGBT community to Becker’s book…”

    There is no such thing as the “LGBT community.” There is an LGB community, and no, these few activists don’t represent it.

    Andrew Sullivan didn’t like the book because it didn’t falsely accuse Matthew Shepard of being a drug trafficker. That is the criterion for Sullivan to approve of a book.

  10. VitalPocket says


    “VITALPOCKET is one of Andrew Sullivan’s former barebacking buddies.” REALLY?! I suppose the appropriate response to such a SAD, CHILDISH stab in the dark would be,
    I know you are but what am I?

    Did you really think I would believe your sockpuppet “imreadingthebook” was a real OTHER person defending “nobackbitersallowed/withmyowneyes”?

    Pathetic uncreative troll. 1/10

  11. GEB says

    Feels good to see a bit of vindication for bucking the marriage tide, as I did in numerous comments on this site. This cast of characters can be credited with making us “oppressed victims” — realizing that long held dream of gays to be “just like everybody else” in the name of equality. They got it wrong. Don’t be fooled. America has not embraced anything. I hear that tired refrain about being on the “wrong side of history” when is has always been the wrong side of our anatomy. With impending molestation scandals, and congressional elections ahead, anticipate a swift blow to the right. Gay sex will be on the ballot. But I did find out that one of these guys is married–to an underwear model. Does it get better?

  12. gpmiii says

    I thought Jo Becker’s NYTimes Magazine piece was great. I’m buying her book!

    I never did read Sullivan’s “Nearly Normal” or “Relatively Normal” or whatever he called it, but his reaction to Becker’s account has been anything but normal. Instead, he seems narcissistic, misogynistic and bitter. Guess he’s getting the attention he needs, but it comes at a cost. Mean is mean. Too bad, because I used to like reading him once in awhile. Now he seems to have become completely unhinged.

    He lost me on the whole Eich(mann) thing, too.

  13. David says

    I have been Involved with Hawaii’s historical ongoing role in Same-Sex marriage battle since the beginning of the first case in 1990. The local and national people who REALLY were and remain the visionaries and made the difference when no one else gave a dam
    were Dan Foley,Evan Wolfson,Bill Woods,Judge Chang and Judge Levinson,and the local couples and activists who worked on it for 21 years and won. David Smith(from HRC) and author John Boswell & Andrew Sullivan provided early inspiration,heart and support.
    Strategy for Vermont,Mass. and Ontario Canada began here as well(thanks to Dan and Evan). In 2015 there will be a comprehensive book coming out that will do a QUALITY job gelling the story out to the world. Be patent. It will be worth it. Aloha,David McEwan MD

  14. Jim says

    Been following the subject over on the Dish (yes, Sullivan has his undies in a bunch about this but rightfully so); reading the article here, it suddenly struck me what Becker is really after: film rights. This would make a neat and tidy gay marriage film…
    Hope Hollywood doesn’t take the bait.

  15. Richard Harney says

    I think 2008 is pretty spot on. The average person didn’t really care much about gay marriage until California’s Prop 8 and that is the vote that really got us fired up with many new gay lobby groups starting. That’s what got the NOH8 campaign started for sure. Adam Bouska wouldn’t have done it if not for the Prop 8 vote. He was busy doing modeling photography for ads and magazine covers at the time.

  16. Jay says

    Becker’s marketing strategy misleads about the book, but clearly the reaction of Andrew Sullivan is over the top, both selfish and petty. Still, it is annoying that the book claims more than it offers. Any history of the marriage equality book has to offer leading roles to Evan Wolfson and Mary Bonauto, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, among others, to say nothing of the ACLU, Roberta Kaplan, and Edie Windsor.

    On the other hand, the epic battle against Prop 8 is a fascinating and central story. The decision to go for a federal suit that might achieve marriage equality throughout the nation was a risky but brave strategy. It stirred the grass roots and yielded a trial that demonstrated the paucity of the opposition’s arguments. Even though the Prop 8 case did not yield the ruling that will extend marriage equality throughout the nation, it is a crucially important story and I intend to read Becker’s book to learn more about the backstory.

    The case that actually will lead to marriage equality is the Windsor case. I hope someone is writing a book about it as well. It is likely to be somewhat less dramatic and featuring fewer flamboyant characters, but it will no doubt be very interesting as well.

  17. says

    Though, like everyone else here, I haven’t yet read the book, it sounds like she should have written a narrow book about Prop 8 rather than aiming at something larger. It sounds like she was too closely embedded with the Prop 8 team and failed to grasp the bigger context. The other problem is the book doesn’t have the dramatic ending the Prop 8 team and probably Becker were hoping for: they didn’t get the big win. They didn’t achieve their goal of nationwide marriage equality. Marriage returned to CA, yes, but on a technicality. Not exactly a movie ending. (Not that AFER’s work isn’t important in other ways. Olson/Boies may still be the ones who get to the Supreme Court.)

    The truth is the marriage movement started well before 2008. Crucial work was done in Hawaii, in Vermont and Massachusetts and elsewhere, in the 1990s. This work led to the cases that led to the overturning of DOMA Section 3, a more significant victory than Prop 8. It’s the Windsor case that’s become the precedent for the string of victories since. Mary Bonauto may not be the fresh face Becker was looking for, but she’s among the people who is much more responsible for where we are now than Griffin.

    Some of the grumbling may be personal (Sullivan, after all, has a personal stake in how the history is written) but much of it is from people who aren’t bitter or jealous or wanting personal glory. They’re simply want to offer a corrective to the book’s tunnel vision.

    Other histories will come forward. For instance, a documentary is in the works that focuses on the Vermont story and the amazing work Beth Robinson and Susan Murray did in Baker v VT.

  18. says

    What’s infuriating about the book are several things:

    1. This “definitive” history of the movement for marriage equality was obviously written by someone who has NO connection to the people involved, and the key turning points in its history. Otherwise, the book would be different. So, it’s a “Pulitzer award winning NYT reporter” cashing in without doing a thorough job of figuring out up from down.

    2. Chad Griffin obviously sucked her in, which shows her naiveté but also makes him look like an egotistical jerk. He could right now, today, make s statement deflecting his over prominent role and crediting those before him. He has not. Why would anyone support HRC right now?

    3. The Prop case was thrown out of SCOTUS on standing grounds. If anyone is Rosa Parks and if any case was super historical, it was Edie Windsor and DOMA. The Kennedy language in that case, echoing the brief written by Robbie Kaplan, is being used all over the country in other cases as we speak.

    4. The marriage equality tidal wave hit shore on election day 2012 when marriage equality (or ending a hate ballot) were won in four states: WA, MN, ME and MD. This was not a legal strategy, this was a PR strategy based on the view that the way to win is public opinion. The straight, moderate middle class public cares little for arguments about gay civil rights in the Constitutional perspective (they see it as the whinings of a minority with an “agenda,” and judges who respond to that as “activist.”). If there ever was a holy sh*t day in marriage equality movement it was November 2012. So, one can say that “well that is another part of the history that is another book,” but if her book tries to claim that everything was failing until AFER came along that is SIMPLY WRONG AND FALSE…

  19. Randy says

    Nationwide support for marriage equality in 1993 was at about one third. Over the next 15 years that has increased to now over one half. Much of that rise occurred well before 2008.

    So how could marriage equality support have risen so much if all those people were doing nothing? This book makes it sound like nothing really happened until 2008 when Chad Griffin entered the picture. That is so preposterous I don’t even know what to say.

    And who can forget the fact that the human rights campaign throughout the 90s was against pushing marriage equality? Even the first part of this decade they were against it. Worse, in both elections that George Bush one, HRC was nowhere to be seen. I distinctly remember many debates on TV when the head of HRC refused to promote marriage equality, and refused to defend gaze at all. Instead, they kept saying that voters just want to talk about health care, because that’s with their focus groups were telling them. And so at a time when we were being bashed by every conservative and religious group out there, HRC just gave up the public flight altogether.

    HRC should be the very last organization on earth to be taking any credit for the marriage equality gains would’ve seen.

  20. Arrow says

    Fight it out boys. This is the tip of the iceberg, and we haven’t even won over the folks in Mississippi. Would someone please tell Neil Patrick Harris to get off the stage, go home and take care of his children?

  21. Alfin y Alcabo says

    @Ernie: “Though, like everyone else here, I haven’t yet read the book, it sounds like she should have written a narrow book about Prop 8 rather than aiming at something larger.”

    I’m reading the book, I’m about half-way through. What you say she should have written, “…a narrow book about Prop 8…”, is in fact what she has written. It’s all about Prop 8. The book makes no pretense of being a comprehensive history of the Equality Movement. Rather, that is the sham/strawman basis on which Andrew Sullivan (and others) attacked the book, in order to have a pretext for his outrage, when what really riles him is that he wasn’t consulted or mentioned. Again, at least so far, the book is a journalistic account of the Prop 8. case and appeals process, for POPULAR CONSUMPTION. It is not an academic or historic work, which would take much, much longer to write. I would encourage Sullivan, Geidner, et al to stop sniping and start writing precisely that history.

    That said, so far, the book is a little bit lightweight–more on the gosssipy, behind-the-scenes side, but with very little information that I hadn’t already read or wasn’t already aware of from having followed the Marriage Equality battle closely for the last decade. Becker also has the annoying habit of referring to Griffin by first name, and everyone else by their last name. So clearly, she is trying to depict the narrative through his eyes. Yes, it’s a little bit transparent in the hero-worship aspect toward Griffin, as well as Olson, although to be fair, it does point out a number of assumptions that Olson made about the case that turned out not to be correct. Where I fail to sympathize with Sullivan’s outrage is that any intelligent reader realizes what’s going on in this book, and takes it for what it is. I think it’s fair to assume that she (Becker) wouldn’t mind getting a movie deal out of this book. It probably won’t be the kind of film I’d like (I prefer documentaries), but if they’re trying to appeal to a mass audience, they will have to create dramatic angles, and in so doing will probably sacrifice some accuracy. That’s show biz.

    The LGBT community does owe a great debt to the Wolfsons, the Sullivans, and all of those who came before and advocated for the cause of Equality when it wasn’t popular. And we owe an special gratitude, respect and admiration for the successful heavy lifters like Mary Bonauto, whose story I would truly be interested to know about in more detail; and Roberta Kaplan, who it should be pointed out, was ALSO criticized by a chorus of anonymous internet trolls (here on Towleroad, in fact) for the way she argued the Windsor/DOMA case before the Supreme Court. “She should’ve argued thus and so, she should’ve emphasized THIS more, she seemed unsure of her brief, blah, blah, blah, yada, yada.” But anyone who was following the cases realized that it was KAPLAN who hit the stand-up triple, while Olson/Boies got more of a ground-rule double.

    Sadly, where Becker’s book makes a legitimate point, and where I think it strikes a nerve with someone like Sullivan, is when it points out that it was a new generation of activists who took the baton, and advanced the cause with Prop 8. The Old Guard, for all they had attempted, had been beaten into an understandably cautious state of paralysis. They had their entire careers and their lives invested in the bigger fight for Equality, and they were understandably territorial when they saw the new kids on the block walk up and say, “Hey, why don’t we try something different?” And not just the new kids, but younger, sexier, more glamorous kids. You can be sure that rankled an old troll like Sullivan, who was NEVER able to trade on his looks, and who regards the newcomers as intellectual lightweights and Hollywood fluffs. That’s a story as old as history, the New replacing the Old, and the Old going out kicking and screaming that they weren’t given their due. Bitter, bitter, bitter.

    As much as you might want to respect Sullivan, he is simply having a soiled-diaper fit of rage, and in so doing revealing his own insecurities about his contributions and accomplishments. It’s kind of sad to see him erode his own legacy this way, by acting more like an infant than an eminence.

    Bottom line: No intelligent person will mistake Becker’s book for the definitive history of the Gay Rights/Marriage Equality movement. No single book will ever tell that entire story. If you don’t like what’s been written so far, and in particular, if you don’t feel your own contributions have been properly depicted, stop whining, and start typing. But stop tearing down other people’s work, and stop alienating allies with all of this selfish, small-minded, childish bickering about who should get the credit.

  22. Arrow says

    Bottom line. Twentieth century gays wanted to create independent new lives of their own–certainly not mimic the family cages they were raised in. This illusion of freedom is actually less.

  23. says

    @Alfin: You seem very focused on Andrew Sullivan and his gripes, whereas I’m not focused on him at all. People can criticize the framing of Becker’s book without it being “whining.” Some people may indeed be worried about who’s getting credit; others have a legitimate interest in an accurate account. The response against critics of the book is as over-the-top as some of the criticism.

    BTW, the so-called “Old Guard” was far from in a state of paralysis. They got Windsor overturned. They didn’t feel beaten at all. There was tension around the Olson/Boies approach, and that is certainly a worthy topic for Becker to explore. I wasn’t among those who read conspiracy theories into Olson’s motives.

  24. Alfin y Alcabo says

    “Some people may indeed be worried about who’s getting credit; others have a legitimate interest in an accurate account.”

    Then stop snipin’ and start typin’. That should be the takeaway from my post.

    I don’t agree that what I wrote was even primiarily about Sullivan, but he was the first in the LGBT camp to screech out; his response was disproportionate, and he has received disproportionate attention.

    What is undeniable is that the LGBT establishment was in a state of abject defeat after the passage of Prop 8. They had the right arguments, but the wrong tactics, and maybe just unlucky timing.

    Becker’s book is about some outside-the-establishment figures who SUCCESSFULLY took on both the LGBT establishment and the anti-Equality forces. Recounting that twin-front confrontation understandably has the capacity to ruffle some feathers, and apparently it has. But her book really shouldn’t be a threat to anyone’s legacy–it’s simply the perspective of a handful of players about a very specific point in the struggle.

    The reaction to Becker’s book has just been ridiculous. The opposing voices from within the LGBT establishment (of which Andrew Sullivan has been first, loudest and most shrill) are reminiscent of the biblical story of Cain and Abel, with Cain the elder brother attacking (and killing) Abel in a fit of jealous rage when “God” received the younger Abel’s sacrificial offering more favorably. The “Old Guard” are furious that the public repeatedly rejected their arguments and efforts for so long, only to see the Supreme Court successfully accept the arguments spearheaded by the “New Guard”. You can see this dynamic everywhere: from Cain and Abel, to Jesse Jackson and Obama, to Madonna and Gaga.

    Sullivan, in particular, has always thought(often correctly) he was the smartest guy at any given debate or discussion on the issue of Gay Rights and Equality. He has also obviously overestimated his capacity to connect with and persuade the larger public with his intellect, probably in part because of timing, in part because of style, and in part because of his own personal foibles that made him a difficult figure to admire.

    I accept one of the premises of Becker’s book that we need to recognize the efforts and success of the outside-the-establishment figures. Actually, we needed them both.

    And this thing ain’t won yet. We can’t afford to have voices like Sullivan’s firing into the circled wagons, hitting allies in the back. Everyone should point their weapons outward at the Scalias, the Tony Perkinses, the Franklin Grahams, the Matt Barbers and the Maggie Gallaghers, who while wounded and desperate, can still cause us injury. This is no time to be fighting over credit. “….there’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.”

  25. says

    OK, let’s step away from the kool-aid for a moment.

    “What is undeniable is that the LGBT establishment was in a state of abject defeat after the passage of Prop 8.”
    Bull-puckey. Only a narrow-minded California-centric view. CA is not the be all and end all, and those of us in VERMONT, for example, who have been at the marriage fight since the mid-90s, went on to overturn a Governor’s veto and win full marriage with supermajorities in April 2009, less than half a year later. Iowa courts also granted marriage in 2009. Maine legalized marriage in 2009. Marriage was won in NH in 2009. DC got marriage in 2009. Doesn’t sound like “abject defeat” to me. It was the Northeast states that ended up actually winning at the Supreme Court, not CA.

    “The “Old Guard” are furious that the public repeatedly rejected their arguments and efforts for so long, only to see the Supreme Court successfully accept the arguments spearheaded by the “New Guard”.”
    REALITY CHECK: unless you’re referring to the “new guard” arguments about standing that allowed the Supreme Court NOT to make sweeping marriage decisions in the Prop 8 case, you are 100% wrong. DOMA was based on the idea that states had granted marriage rights, and that the Federal Govt. was denying them status the states had granted. It was premised on the idea that the states granted these rights — in this case New York. States that granted those rights did so because they had been successfully legislated or won in courts by the old guard. Were it not for the old guard, there would be no Windsor and DOMA would still stand. Even if Prop 8 won in the SCOTUS as it did, that would have meant no full rights for any gay couples.

  26. says

    “What is undeniable is that the LGBT establishment was in a state of abject defeat after the passage of Prop 8. They had the right arguments, but the wrong tactics, and maybe just unlucky timing.”

    That’s incorrect. Not sure which establishment you’re talking about? In CA, true; they ran the defeat-8 campaign poorly, but there is life beyond CA. In my state, for instance, marriage was on the road to victory in 2008. The “old guard” legal teams behind the cases that led to the Windsor victory were far from discouraged. Their arguments, formed over 2 decades, completely succeeded at the Supreme Court. (The Boies/Olson Prop 8 arguments, important as they are, have yet to be affirmed in a SCOTUS ruling; they may well be if the VA case gets there first.)

    Spending a few minutes on a blog discussing the dubious framing of Becker’s book hardly amounts to sniping, nor does it mean we all have an interest in writing books on the movement. (Though I’m happy my fellow VTers are working on a documentary about the importance of Baker v VT.) Those who’ve been working successfully in the grassroots movement for years, however, have a place in the dialogue around the book.

    Not sure why a discussion of a book suddenly gets labeled “rage” or some sort of faux- conflict between old and new guard. Becker should be happy–and probably is–that her book is getting attention.

  27. Ken says

    What an unpleasant and nasty fight. I wouldn’t agree with Andrew Sullivan on much of anything. Evan Wolson is a gay pioneer. Why do we need to compare our pioneers with African-American pioneers? Rosa Parks did what she did, and many gays and lesbian have shown similar bravery. But the circumstances were not the same.
    And if Jo Becker won a Pulitzer as a co-author, that is still winning a Pulitzer. Why try to diminish it because you don’t like her book?

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