CRF Blog

I Do, I Do

by Bill Hayes

In I Do, I Do for the New York Review of Books, Edmund White reviews three books on gay marriage: Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality by Jo Becker, Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, and Law and the Gay Rights Story: The Long Search for Equal Justice in a Divided Democracy by Walter Frank.

[T]here was a long history of lesbian and gay legal battles, well summarized in Law and the Gay Rights Story, a book that deals with many issues other than the right to marry: the workplace, freedom to serve in the armed forces, freedom from violence, freedom for open gays to teach in public schools. Between 2004 and 2013 the number of Americans who would be upset if they had a gay child fell from 60 percent to 40 percent — a remarkable transformation in less than a decade. The greater visibility of gay celebrities (such as Ellen Degeneres) and the higher profile of gay films (such as the Academy Award–winning Brokeback Mountain) and TV shows (such as Will and Grace and Modern Family and Glee) and plays (such as Angels in America and The Normal Heart) undoubtedly contributed to this change of heart.

The battle for gay marriage intensified after the passage of Proposition 8, a confusingly worded referendum in California declaring that only marriages between a man and a woman were valid. The case attracted the attention of Theodore Olson, the conservative lawyer who had won the Supreme Court battle of Bush v. Gore. He regarded the gay marriage issue as one of equal protection under the law, and he recognized that this was the civil rights struggle of our day. As Jo Becker writes in Forcing the Spring, he said he was honored to represent lesbians and gays and offered to do so at a discounted rate of $2.9 million plus expenses, even though he got considerable blowback from conservative friends, who objected on religious or constitutional grounds.

The people behind the legal battle were Chad Griffin, a gay political consultant and now head of the gay civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign, and his friend and business partner, Kristina Schake. They teamed up with two of their clients, the movie director Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally) and his wife Michele, both long-standing advocates of civil rights. The team was completed when they were joined by David Boies, who’d represented Gore in the Supreme Court. The “odd couple” aspect of the Boies-Olson partnership drew a lot of press attention.

The decision to challenge Prop 8 in the courts did not sit well with the established gay leadership, who felt that an adverse decision could set back gay rights by decades. Their motto was “Make Change, Not Lawsuits,” and their agenda was to fight for the passage of marriage equality laws state by state. [more]