Mark Segal

Mark My Words: Marriage Equality, Media, & Mama Rose

Filed By Mark Segal | April 24, 2014 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Chad Griffin, Evan Wolfson, Forcing the Spring, gay marriage, Iowa, Mama Rose, marriage equality, Metropolitan Community Church, same-sex marriage

This column is going to attempt, in its small allotted space, to connect four items into one coherent thought -- and finish with a pleasant surprise. Here are the four items: Jo Becker's new book about the battle for same-sex marriage and the dispute among LGBT writers on the thesis of the book; journalism; Iowa 40 years ago; and a book called Mama Rose's Turn. Ready?

In my spare time -- and that's a joke these days -- my joy is to read biographies, mostly of a theatrical nature. Currently, I'm reading Mama Rose's Turn by Carolyn Quinn. It's the real-life story of the real Mama Rose from the film and stage show Gypsy.

It's a meticulously-written biography. The research was intensive and if you want to read a book that tells a true story backed up by the facts, this is it.

forcing-the-spring.jpgJournalism has been in my blood for almost 40 years, and good journalism, especially these days, is hard to find. Good journalism, which includes having the facts correct and communicating them in a way that is entertaining or enlightening for the reader, is almost an art form. This book wins that hands-down.

On the contrary, Becker's new book, Forcing the Spring -- about the battle for marriage equality -- is the opposite. You'd expect more from a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the New York Times.

The book has created a firestorm of debate among LGBT writers such as Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, and many others who were demanding marriage equality long before 2008. The thesis of the book concludes who should get credit for the current success that marriage equality is having across the nation, giving it squarely to Chad Griffin, the Human Rights Campaign, and Dustin Lance Black (of the film Milk fame).

Most of those attacking the book normally find little to agree on when it comes to the LGBT community. But this time, they all hit the same bullseye.

The book is an historical Disneyland. Its main thesis is that marriage equality only took hold after the intervention of Griffin and Black in 2008, six short years ago. Ridiculous.

Who says so? Me, because I witnessed and spoke on the subject more than 40 years ago. But I'm a minor player in it all. The major historic player was the Rev. Troy Perry, who literally had the issue at the core of the foundation of Metropolitan Community Church to the chagrin of us gay activists of the time in 1970.

This came to light to me last weekend when an article appeared in The Gazette, the leading daily newspaper for Eastern Iowa for over 125 years, as they say. It was a history of gay rights in Iowa and recounts a speech I gave there in 1974. In that speech, I spoke about how, someday, there might even be gay marriage and credited the Rev. Perry.

Look, Griffin and Black deserve some credit, but bursting onto the scene in the last act doesn't play. People like Evan Wolfson and Perry, both of whom dedicated much of their lives to the subject (Wolfson gets seven mentions in the book, while Perry and MCC not one) and even people who ran the initially losing fight against Proposition 8 are the real heroes.

They did the work when it was not a popular cause. They were the ones who moved the issue. We welcome all the newbies to our cause, but they are newbies, and Becker, who was a respected investigative reporter, should have done a little research on the topic. It seems she didn't. In the future, Becker might learn the use of something called Google.

If you'd do a simple search, you would have learned about the history leading up to Vice President Biden's pronouncement that he was in favor of marriage equality, and President Obama's subsequent support. The president even stated publicly that he was evolving on the subject, which became a joke in the community. We all knew -- or thought we did, anyway -- that the evolution would be complete after the election.

So that last point, which I promised would be fun, is based on that book which did deep research, Mama Rose's Turn. Seems Gypsy's Mama Rose, the real-life Mama Rose, was a lesbian. Now that's what good research brings you. Becker gives us fantasy and revisionist history. I know, I'm a witness to that history... just ask the people in Iowa.

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