Guest Blogger

Why Judge 'Forcing the Spring' By Its Cover?

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 09, 2014 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: California, Chad Griffin, Forcing the Spring, gay marriage, Jo Becker, marriage equality, Prop 8, Proposition 8, same-sex marriage

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Elizabeth Birch is the former Chief Litigation and Human Resources Counsel, Worldwide for Apple Computer, Inc. and a past Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign. She currently serves as President and CEO of Elizabeth Birch Company/Global Out.

From the time we are small we are told: Don't judge a book by its cover. In this case, I say don't judge Forcing the Spring before you read it.
forcing-the-spring.jpgRecently, Forcing the Spring, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jo Becker, was released to the world. The book chronicles the legal odyssey to finally defeat, once and for all, the Rasputin-like Prop 8, a California law that stripped the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.  

Becker takes the reader on an extraordinary journey inside a single piece of test case litigation, a riveting tale with a full cast of colorful characters, the very best of which are the four authentic and down-to-earth plaintiffs. The Prop 8 team actually succeeds in deep-sixing Prop 8 (something you might actually miss if you only read the initial pulverizing critiques by a handful of bloggers and journalists). 
Quite simply, the book is riveting. It is about the death of a law that ripped out the hearts of so many LGBT Californians (and those who care about them) when it passed on election night 2008. That is what it is about. It is not about anything else. 

It is not about the decades-long trek - still ongoing - toward full marriage equality in every state of the union. It is not a draft of history. It is not the final word on all things related to marriage equality in the United States. It is about a single case.

The book won critical acclaim in outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post. But it ignited a firestorm in some quarters for one fundamental reason: Forcing the Spring should have had an introduction placing the Prop 8 case in its proper historical context, advice I recently offered to Jo Becker when she sought me out. (I had never before met her.) 

Becker does pay homage to the wonderful Edie Windsor, who bravely pursued the seminal Supreme Court case that succeeded in striking down Section 3 of DOMA, thus opening the opportunity for more marriage equality victories in the past year. But an introduction would have given Becker an opportunity to put the federal litigation effort in the context of the much larger quest for marriage equality. It also would have allowed the titan pioneering efforts of leaders such as Mary Bonauto, Evan Wolfson, and others to be properly acknowledged.
Without that context, two things happened. First, it is important to understand that LGBT people often grow up at the margins - the margin of their families, religious institutions, and communities. And so it hurts when key leaders who have been in these battles the longest are marginalized in a major book, the subject matter of which represents the core of their life's work. That should have been anticipated by the people around Becker, if not by Becker herself.

Second, by triggering that pain, Becker (along with Chad Griffin, who agreed to allow Becker and a documentary crew to chronicle the Prop 8 battle long before he headed HRC) was subjected to a kind of pounding, guillotine-driven literary assassination. Honestly, it was far too much. The book was unfairly reduced to a shorthand caricature: the Prop 8 team, as caped superheroes, swept onto a relatively untouched battlefield to vanquish injustice and restore marriage to the Golden State. 

No social change is ever that simple. And no one on the Prop 8 Team is that stupid.
What would be a real loss is if people did not actually read this book! Rarely has an episode of one piece of LGBT work been captured in such sharp relief and detail. The story unfolds like a journal, revealing an unlikely cast of characters that literally orchestrate the death of a very painful episode of California's history. While the main action is propelled by the two odd couples - political strategists Chad Griffin and Kristina Schake and lawyers Ted Olsen and David Boies - it is also the story of key figures like Judge Vaughn Walker, a Reagan appointee who was closeted for most of his adult life, but on the eve of retirement succeeds in delivering the most important decision for LGBT people in the state's history. 

kris-perry-sandy-stier.jpgIn the end, though, this book is about the plaintiffs.  Becker artfully captures the disruptive bumpy ride to right a wrong, and the extreme vulnerability of each plaintiff as they literally put their lives on trial. So the most important reason to read Forcing the Spring, in addition to Becker's skilled explanation of key constitutional concepts, are the plaintiffs themselves: Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Jeff Zarrillo, and Paul Katami. 

Until recently, I had not met Kris or Sandy. (I still have not met Jeff or Paul). Sandy is a pretty, funny, Berkeley-styled Mom who literally chose natural childbirth with the delivery of her first child. That was perhaps only slightly more naïve than the ease with which she thought this case would play out. In fact, it was a grueling, major undertaking, as both Sandy and her partner, Kris, held down jobs and raised their four sons. 
Kris, who is the Perry in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, is a strong woman housing a soft soul. You would trust her to protect a forest or an island of children. No ego or sense of self-importance got triggered in either woman on this extremely public journey.

Before people get to "I do," someone has to say "I will" be that plaintiff. Kris and Sandy and Paul and Jeff stepped up for all of us, and so much can be learned by reading their story.

No one should miss reading this book!

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