April 24, 2014 | by Peter Rosenstein
Jo Becker’s revisionist history on marriage
Proposition 8, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade, Becker

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Jo Becker’s book “Forcing the Spring,” which lauds the work of the American Foundation for Equal Rights has generated much debate in the LGBT community. Andrew Sullivan trashed the book and its author and claimed some major credit for himself in the fight for marriage equality.

Elizabeth Birch, former president of the Human Rights Campaign trashed Sullivan in her Huffington Post column. But they apparently agree on one thing: The book by Becker is far from an accurate history of the fight for marriage equality.

Reading the excerpt published in the New York Times, it was easy to accept both Sullivan and Birch were right even if their language was harsh. Michael Calderone in his Huffington Post piece quotes Sullivan’s comments on Becker’s book in which he said it is “truly toxic and morally repellent,” and that it includes instances of “jaw-dropping distortion” and statements “so wrong, so myopic and so ignorant it beggars belief that a respectable journalist could actually put it in print.” I guess Sullivan and Becker won’t be going for brunch anytime soon.

Birch calls Sullivan “insufferable,” and notes, “While it is true that the struggle for marriage equality predates the Proposition 8 case and its aftermath, it also predates Andrew Sullivan. (Did anyone else notice no less than four of Sullivan’s books are pushed in the opening paragraphs of his diatribe against the Prop 8 team? So much for collective credit).”

But why is anyone surprised that Sullivan thinks the world revolves around him? I remember his New York Times magazine cover story on the AIDS epidemic, “When Plagues End,” in 1996 when he declared the AIDS epidemic over because the new medications worked for him. The millions who have died and been infected since may not see themselves in the same light.

Both Sullivan and Birch offered strong statements about what was left out of Becker’s book and after reading the excerpt, I was left wondering how much money AFER paid her to write it. It clearly is not a history of the fight for gay marriage but rather a book trying to create heroes of a select few. This is not to denigrate the work of Chad Griffin or the actual work of attorneys who fought the Prop 8 fight or the real heroes of that fight, the couples who brought suit.

But in the excerpt (I haven’t read the full book) she portrays Ken Mehlman as a hero, glancing over his personal responsibility for the anti-gay rhetoric and devastating policies of the Bush administration. She never mentions that while Olsen was one of the lawyers for these couples he was at the same time supporting the Romney/Ryan ticket that was promising to repeal all gay rights advances and to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would be guaranteed to rule against this case.

There are so many people and organizations deeply involved in the struggle for marriage equality. The fact is, the case brought by AFER to the Supreme Court was a partial victory instead of a possible total loss because Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, submitted a brief offering the court what some called an “off-ramp.” It was his brief quoted in Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion that allowed the court to reject the case and return it to the Appellate Court in California where the ruling would only impact that state.

The Becker book apparently leaves out nearly all the activists who have spent a good part of their lives fighting for full human and civil rights for the LGBT community. Many have spent the years working for marriage equality that Mehlman and Olsen spent developing and supporting policies to prevent it.

From Hawaii, where the Supreme Court first ruled in 1993 that marriage equality was constitutional beginning the long fight there, to Massachusetts, which became the first state to legalize marriage equality in 2004; to Iowa that legalized it in 2009 to D.C., the fight for marriage was an effort by thousands. D.C. advocates spent 20 years preparing the stage and working to elect a City Council that would vote yes when the right time came. The question Becker says Griffin put to Obama about when he would “evolve” was asked by many others at those small $37,500 a couple fundraisers. I myself put him on the spot with the same question, and got the same answer, at one of those events on Sept. 30, 2011.

I hope that when marriage equality becomes a reality across the entire nation that someone will write the real history of the fight that won it. That book will be beneficial to future generations in a way that the Becker book will never be.

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