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Lessons from the Jo Becker Gay Marriage Book, Part 2: Two Edges of the Same Sword

BeckerBY LISA KEEN

Part One of Lisa Keen's look into Forcing the Spring appeared on May 6. Read it HERE.

May 14, 2009. Hollywood producer Rob Reiner and his wife Michele hosted a lunch to talk about a lawsuit they were supporting to challenge Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. At the table with them were public relations business partners Chad Griffin and Kristina Schake and openly gay Hollywood producer Bruce Cohen. Except that actor Dustin Lance Black was absent, this was the entire board of the one-month-old American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER).

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Ted Boutrous was there, representing his colleague, the well-known conservative attorney Ted Olson, who had been engaged to lead the litigation. But Boutrous was not just a stand-in. He was a crisis management strategist, veteran appeals court advocate, and an expert in media affairs. He would be one of the legal team’s top attorneys.

DavidsonTheir guests were two attorneys from the nation’s oldest national LGBT legal organization, Jon Davidson (right) and Jenny Pizer, and two attorneys from the Southern California chapter of the ACLU, Ramona Ripston and Mark Rosenbaum. Davidson was national legal director for the 36-year-old Lambda, the group that helped win the Romer v. Evans case which many believe paved the way for later LGBT victories when the Supreme Court declared that laws disfavoring gay people cannot be justified by animus. Pizer represented Lambda as co-counsel on the in re Marriage Cases that won the May 2008 ruling from the California Supreme Court that allowed 18,000 same-sex couples to marry until voters changed the state constitution that November. Ripston was executive director of the southern chapter, an attorney whom the Los Angeles Time had recently named one of the “100 Most Powerful People in Southern California.” Rosenbaum, too, had racked up considerable kudos since joining the chapter staff in 1974.

According to Jo Becker’s Forcing the Spring, Rob Reiner started things off by giving the guests a synopsis of the AFER group’s discussions and then Boutrous said that Ted Olson had been engaged to lead the lawsuit.

“Someone is going to bring a federal marriage lawsuit,” Boutrous said, according to Forcing the Spring. “And you won’t find a better advocate than Ted Olson.”

Given Olson’s well-known conservative ties and activities, it was a bold statement. And Becker’s account states that the Lambda and ACLU attorneys interrupted Boutrous with a “cacophony of criticism that grew increasingly heated.” She said they complained that Olson wasn’t “one of them.” They characterized Griffin and his pals as “upstarts who didn’t know what they were doing.” And they echoed a point respected gay legal activist Paul Smith had already made directly to Olson: that if a lawsuit were brought too soon, it could set the LGBT civil rights movement back for decades.

Tempers flared and, according to Becker’s book, Lambda’s Davidson “threw a multi-page dossier on the dining room table, outlining all the conservative causes Olson had championed over the years. This, and more, would be released to the media if they went ahead with their ill-fated plan, he threatened.”

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Lessons from the Jo Becker Gay Marriage Book, Part 2: Two Edges of the Same Sword" »


California Poised To Remove Anti-Gay Language From State's Marriage Laws

The California state senate recently approved a bill that would remove language from the state’s Family Code defining marriage as only “between a man and a woman.” The bill (SB1306) would use gender-neutral language calling marriage as “a civil contract between two persons” and also open the door for California to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

CaliThese changes would bring the states laws into accordance with the recent Supreme, federal and state court decisions affirming the right of same-sex couples to wed.

The SF Gate reports:

“In June, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a lower court judge's order striking down as unconstitutional a ballot measure known as Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative that outlawed same-sex marriages in California. A 5-4 court majority ruled that the ban's sponsors lacked authority to defend the measure on appeal, though the justices did not directly address the ban's constitutionality.

Marriages resumed in late June after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a stay it had imposed on the lower court ruling. The state Supreme Court dismissed a final challenge by the ban's backers in August.”

The SF Gate adds that Republican Senator Jim Nielsen was the only Republican to speak against the bill and that in the California Assembly, only Republicans voted against the bill while two Republicans — Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Ted Gaines of Roseville — voted for it.


'The Case Against 8' Proposition 8 Documentary Gets a Full Trailer: VIDEO

Caseagainst8

Journalist Lisa Keen called Jo Becker's book Forcing the Spring "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."

But in fact, there is such a Hollywood docu-drama, and it's called The Case Against 8, which might be seen by some as a companion, or perhaps an alternative, to Becker's controversial and highly-criticized retelling of the events in the Prop 8 case.

In any case, The Case Against 8 won the Documentary Directing Award at Sundance and took home an Audience Award at SXSW. It's opening in limited release in June and airing on HBO on June 23.

Watch the new trailer, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "'The Case Against 8' Proposition 8 Documentary Gets a Full Trailer: VIDEO" »


NYT Reporter Jo Becker Defends Marriage Equality Book in Grilling from Ronan Farrow: VIDEO

Farrow_becker

MSNBC host Ronan Farrow used a segment of his show to discuss NYT reporter Jo Becker's new book Forcing the Spring: The Fight for Marriage Equality which has come under heavy criticism for a narrative advocates have called absurd, distorted, and just plain wrong.

Becker is asked if she regrets any of the language she used, including comparisons of AFER's Chad Griffin to Rosa Parks, and starting the book with "this is how a revolution begins" as if the movement for marriage equality began when AFER took up the Prop 8 case.

Becker regrets none of it.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "NYT Reporter Jo Becker Defends Marriage Equality Book in Grilling from Ronan Farrow: VIDEO" »


Prop 8 Judge Vaughn Walker Describes Closeted Past, 'Ex-Gay' Therapy

In an upcoming book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Jo Becker, Judge Vaughn Walker — the U.S. District Court judge who declared California’s anti-gay marriage law Proposition 8 unconstitutional — reveals that he underwent 'ex-gay' reparative therapy as a young man.

WalkerSF Gate has more:

Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality describes Walker blinking back tears as he listened to the man's testimony in 2010, recalling the therapy he had undergone three decades earlier to try to unsnarl uncertainties about his own sexual orientation - but it was a nightmare not revealed publicly until now…

Becker writes that Walker told her the psychiatrist - after some counseling that Walker no longer remembers in any detail - ultimately determined he was not actually gay because he had not yet had sex with a man.

"And he pronounced me cured," recalled Walker - who "wanted badly to believe that was true," the book says…

The "conversion" therapy episodes are among several the book reveals as Walker recalls his internal struggles over his sexuality - and whether, or how, to disclose it.

He says he had "faux romances" with women, entered his first relationship with a man in his late 30s, and was thinking of coming out publicly - but pulled back when he found himself representing the U.S. Olympic Committee in a trademark suit against a San Francisco organization that wanted to call its athletic competition the Gay Olympics.

… After some years on the bench, as Becker describes it, he "began to live a little more openly," occasionally visiting a gay bar, and being seen at social events with his partner, a physician. But he went public with his orientation only in April 2011, more than two months after his retirement.

Shortly after ruling on Prop 8, Walker came out and anti-gay supporters of the law tried to have his decision thrown out on the basis of his inability to be “impartial” as a gay man. That challenge was heard and dismissed by a judge who said that such logic would render female judges unable to rule on gender bias cases.

Becker's book has faced criticism for largely crediting the gay marriage movement's successes to the people she interviewed — something David Mixner noted in his most recent Towleroad column.


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.


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