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04/19/2007


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

Fts_becker

BY LISA KEEN

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 politico.com 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.


Only Four States Have Unchallenged Same-Sex Marriage Bans

Us_mapThe Washington Post recently made the interesting observation that there are only 5 states in the U.S. (now, four, given Lambda Legal's lawsuit announced today in Georgia) where statewide bans on same-sex marriage have gone unchallenged:

Gay marriage is now legal in 17 states and bans are being challenged in 30, according to the latest count from Lambda Legal, a pro-gay marriage organization. (Hawaii and Illinois allow gay marriage, but legal technicalities to aspects of their laws are still being ironed out in the courts.)

The five states with bans on gay marriage that stand unchallenged are: Alaska, Georgia, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The Post notes that the five states’ marriage bans may not last for long as one South Dakota couple already has plans to challenge their state’s ban.


Federal Lawsuit Filed Challenging Gay Marriage Ban in Georgia

Georgia

Lambda Legal has filed a federal lawsuit today challenging Georgia's ban on gay marriage on behalf of three same-sex couples and a widow, it announced at a press conference today:

The case was filed on behalf of Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman of Snellville (top left), Rayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler of Jonesboro (top right), Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas of Atlanta (bottom right), and Jennifer Sisson of Decatur.

Joining Inniss and Stroman as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: Rayshawn Chandler, 29, and Avery Chandler, 30, Atlanta Police Department police officers who have been together for almost three years; Michael Bishop, 50, and Shane Thomas, 44, together for seven years and the parents of two children; and Jennifer Sisson, 34, whose wife, Pamela Drenner, died on March 1 at age 49. Jennifer and Pam were married in New York in 2013. Despite being legally married, the State of Georgia has refused to list Jennifer as Pam's wife on Pam's death certificate.

Said Inniss, a veterinarian and pet resort owner:

"Georgia is our home. Our family is here, our business is here, and our community here is a great support for us. Shelton and I have been together for 13 years. We own a home together, we own a business together, and we are raising our son, Jonathan, together. We have done everything we can to protect and take responsibility for our family but marriage is the only way to ensure that we are treated as the family that we are. We need the protection that marriage affords."

Said Tara Borelli, Senior Attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta:

"Every day that same-sex couples in Georgia are denied the freedom to marry, the government sends a message that their families are not worthy of dignity and respect. Georgians believe in the Southern values of love, honor and family, but as long as the State of Georgia continues to bar same-sex couples from marriage, it devalues these families and reinforces unfairness and discrimination."

Read the full complaint HERE.

The Georgia Voice also has a few more interviews with all the plaintiffs.


Radio Talk Show Host Says Same-Sex Marriage Is as Make-Believe as Humans Being Able to Fly

Conservative talk radio show host Steve Deace dropped by Phyllis Schlafly's show, and same-sex marriage was among the topics the two discussed. Right Wing Watch reports that, during his appearance, Deace argued that gay marriage is as implausible as humans taking flight.

Deace-mugshotEarly in the program, Deace explained what he believed to be the dangers of marriage equality:

To finally be the first civilization in human history to say you have a legal right to have homosexual sex and relationships with your neighbor is costing other people their freedom of their God-given right to moral conscience, their God-given right free speech, their God-given right to religious liberty. And you can ask bakers, and you can ask florists, you can ask Hobby Lobby and all these stories of religious liberty that we're seeing around the country...you have no right to do that which God says is wrong.

Deace then responded to a caller who claimed to have a "semi-liberal" friend who believes it's "not government’s job to legislate morality."

Question him further to find exactly out what that means. And I’m telling you, what I’m 99 percent positive that it will mean is that he’s bought into some postmodern thinking that says, ‘Well, yeah, I think this stuff is wrong and icky for me but I can’t impose my value system on somebody else.’

But of course, that’s a very slippery slope as well. I mean, someone might think, I have the right to fly and I’d love to fly and I have a desire to fly and I even found a judge that gave me a piece of paper that told me I have the right to fly. But when I fling myself off the top of a skyscraper, I run smack-dab into the law of gravity. It didn’t change because some judge said so. It still exists. So, chances are that’s a false objection from your friend because he’s bought into some postmodern thinking about over-judgementalism.

Listen to a clip of the above, AFTER THE JUMP. The entire show, if you can bear it, is here.

Continue reading "Radio Talk Show Host Says Same-Sex Marriage Is as Make-Believe as Humans Being Able to Fly" »


'That Book' and the Credit for Equality

450x300_1993MarchOnWash_Get

BY DAVID MIXNER

Who is Viola Liuzzo?

Drawing a blank?

Since she is not in the history books, most people have never heard of her. Ms. Liuzzo was a white Detroit mother of five who went to Selma, Alabama after the horrific attack by police on voting rights protesters on Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. After arriving in Selma, she was given the job of transporting marchers. A carload of KKK members pulled alongside her car and shot her to death.

What's the point?

It is simple. She is as much responsible for the 1965 Voting Rights Bill as so many of the famous leaders from that heroic period. However, history will not record her name nor will future generations know the name of so many others who made it possible for our country to have an African-American President today.

History will treat the epic struggle for LGBT freedom exactly the same way. Maybe Harvey Milk and Edie Windsor will rightly be in high school history books but few other names will appear beside them since history is notorious for having limited space.

So everyone should chill about the new book (Forcing the Spring by Jo Becker) on the fight to win marriage equality. In the future, there will be many books, movies, documentaries and oral histories. Each one will have its own version of events and its own anointment of the 'real leaders'.

Who is responsible for taking the LGBT community down the road to freedom?

Each and every one of us is responsible for this remarkable change.

The thousands who stood in line in to get married in the 'Valentine's Day' revolution of 2004 (prompted by Mayor Gavin Newsom issuing marriage licenses) in San Francisco are responsible. The lawyers and plaintiffs who have been fighting in the courts all around America for years are responsible. People who lined up at midnight in different states to be among the first to get married are responsible. Everyone who signed a petition, donated money, attended a rally, came out to  family and friends and contacted their elected officials made marriage equality happen.

Each and every one of us made history. The early pioneers who suffered so much at the hands of the bigots brought us to this point. The young men who died of AIDS and fought for justice to their dying breaths made it happen. The thousands who were beaten, killed or had their homes attacked for being an LGBT American brought us to this point in history.

That is the simple truth.

Many leaders and many books will give us different versions of this journey. Some will rightfully honor heroes, and some will come off as frantic egotistical attempts by figures desperate to be remembered as crucial to this epic moment in history. Some will downplay others' roles in this struggle and some will achieve justified acclaim.

What will be remembered by future generations is our incredible and noble struggle for equality. Very few names will be known but our collective effort will never be forgotten.

Long after I am gone my name will be known to very, very few. What I do know gives me great joy. Deep within my heart I know that I have given everything possible. By joining with other LGBT Americans and our allies I have not only witnessed history but participated in it.

That is a damn good feeling to me and should be enough for everyone.


New Poll Shows Majority of Texans Support Same-Sex Marriage

Texas

Well this is a first.

An independent poll from Texas Tech Univeristy has found that 48 percent of Texans are in favor of same-sex marriage, while 47 percent oppose it.

Lone Star Q reports:

“In the past, support for gay marriage in this state was below 40 percent,” said associate professor Mark McKenzie, who oversaw the poll. “Now, we’re closely divided on the issue. … Democrats and Independents strongly support gay marriage, while Republicans are strongly opposed to it.”

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll in June 2013 found that 39 percent of Texans supported same-sex marriage — only a slight increase from polls over the previous four years.

However, no poll has been conducted since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year — or since a federal judge in San Antonio struck down the state’s marriage bans in February.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, has appealed the judge’s decision. State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor, has come out in support of same-sex marriage. In 2005, three-fourths of voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution banning same-sex marriage.


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