As it turns out, the march to marriage has taken many long decades, and it’s transformed the lives of millions of people. The experiences of those people make for some pretty compelling storytelling; and writer Matt Baume (who you know from his recently-concluded YouTube series, Marriage News Watch) has gathered some of those previously-untold stories into a new book, Defining Marriage: Voices from a 40-Year Labor of Love. The book is free to download this week (July 13 to 17th) and features a personal look into the lives of people who fought for marriage. Here are just a small sampling of the stories you might not have heard:
1. Same-Sex Couples Have Been Staging Marriage Protests for Decades
Marriage equality may seem like a relatively new idea — we’ve only had it in any American state for about a decade — but same-sex couples tried (and failed) to get married since before you were probably born.
The book opens with a trip to the Library of Congress, where tucked away in a yellowing file folder are wedding invitations from couples dating back to the 1970s. There’s also a press release, typed out on carbon paper and marked up with red ink, alerting the media that two Washington D.C. men intend to apply for a marriage license. (Unsurprisingly, they didn’t succeed.)
2. A Same-Sex Marriage License from 1975 is Still Being Disputed by the Government Today
Back in the 1970s, Boulder Country Clerk Clela Rorex decided that she would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, much to the country’s shock and horror. She only handed out a few, but one of them went to Tony Sullivan and Richard Adams, a bi-national couple. Shortly afterward, the government tried to deport Tony, despite the license. The couple evaded detection for years until Richard passed away, and then the INS resumed deportation proceedings. The case remains open, forty years later, with Tony still waiting to learn whether he can legally remain in the country.
3. Before he Became a Sex Advice Columnist, Dan Savage was Going to be a Priest
It’s true. Raised in a Catholic household, Dan thought that the priesthood would allow him to spend time with other men in robes, which sounded like a blast. But after some dark times and self-reflection, he decided it was probably better to just be honest with himself — and everyone else. When his mother lamented that he’d never be married, he told her that that was straight society’s doing, not his.
4. Some Parts of the Gay Community Attacked Andrew Sullivan for Advocating for Marriage Equality
It was the late 1980s when Andrew Sullivan’s article, “A (Conservative) Case for Gay Marriage” appeared in The New Republic. Some radical queers were outraged by the idea that they would be expected to participate in what was then considered a heterosexual institution. They called him a “collaborator,” chased him from bars, and even put his face in crosshairs on protest signs. One columnist called him “Rush Limbaugh with monster pecs.” Hubba hubba?
5. The First Successful Modern Marriage Lawsuit Started with an Ear Infection
Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel were dating for about six months when they were asked to participate in a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii. They agreed, in part, because Ninia had an ear infection and needed access to Genora’s health care plan. In the early ’90s, their application to marry was denied by a clerk named Irene; and although Ninia and Genora split up a few years later, that same clerk happily issued Genora a license to marry her new partner nearly two decades later.
6. The Defense of Marriage Act was Written by a Lesbian
Kathryn Lehman was an attorney working for congressional Republicans when she was tasked with writing a bill to stop LGBT couples from marrying. She herself was about to marry a man, and had attempted for years to control her attraction to women. After her marriage ended and she confronted the truth about herself, she made up for her role in shaping DOMA by working tirelessly to overturn it.
7. Early Marriage Protests Were a Little Deceptive
It’s not a lie, exactly; but it’s also a bit of misleading stagecraft. One of the earliest organized marriage counter protests happened in Beverly Hills; organizers tried to draw a crowd of couples to demand a license, but only a handful showed up. The solution? Send people up to the counter over and over, but in different combinations, thereby making it appear as though many more couples wanted to get marry than actually were present. (Of course, there were many thousands of gay couples who would have wanted the freedom to marry, but they either didn’t know about the rally or had to maintain their secrecy.)
8. Some LGBTs Wanted to Let Antigay Legislators Ban Marriage Without Putting up a Fight
In 2000, Senator Pete Knight put a marriage ban called Prop 22 on the California Ballot. The polling made it obvious that there was no way LGBT groups could defeat Prop 22. (In fact, Campaign Manager Mike Marshall was the only person who applied for the job.) Many LGBT state leaders thought the best solution was just to let the ban pass without putting up a fight. But Mike came up with a different plan: don’t try to defeat the ban, but use the campaign as cover to quietly build up infrastructure to overturn it in a few years’ time. (Which is exactly what happened.)
9. Queer Community Leaders Begged Gavin Newsom Not to Let Same-Sex Couples Marry in 2004
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom shocked the nation when he began issuing surprise marriage licenses to same-sex couples just a few weeks into his time in office. Surprisingly, LGBT leaders, both on his staff and in the community, had urged him not to do so. They feared a backlash that could set the movement back, as had happened after previous advances. Newsom, for his part, says he has no regrets.
10. Consultants Refused to Listen to LGBT Leaders on the Prop 8 Campaign
Okay, this one might not be a surprise. Outside consultants effectively shut more experienced LGBT leaders out of the Prop 8 campaign in 2008, setting aside the wisdom of longtime advocates like Molly McKay. They even refused to send law signs to impoverished rural LGBT organizers unless they fundraised to buy them themselves.
11. At Least One Couple Married in California AFTER Prop 8 Passed.
Juan and Tim Clark-Lucero were planning to marry in the spring, and didn’t think the marriage ban would pass. When the woke up the next day they hatched a plan to obtain a marriage license one day late — and amazingly, it succeeded. Congrats to the happily married couple!
12. Join the Impact’s Founder Never Meant to Start a Protest Movement
Amy Balliett was just an unassuming graphic designer with some college organizing experience when she made an offhand suggestion via email: organize some rallies in cities around the country to protest Prop 8. The idea might not have gone anywhere if it hadn’t happened at exactly the right moment: thousands of people were looking for a way to vent their emotions over the passage of the ban, and soon Amy found herself at the forefront of a movement. But she longed for things to go back to the way they were.
13. Harvey Milk Helped Dustin Lance Black Throughout His Life
For much of his childhood, he grew up in a scary, abusive household in Texas. Then his mother and her partner were able to escape to California and safety, and Dustin Lance Black’s life started to immediately improve. Harvey Milk’s legacy intersected with his life at several key points: around the time that he discovered a welcoming theater community, around the time he came out of the closet, and of course when he was looking for an inspiring script to write. That’s what helped inspire Lance to co-found The American Foundation for Equal Rights.
14. Many Republicans Regret Voting Against Marriage Equality
The marriage battle exploded in New York in 2009 and 2011, with contentious votes in the legislature. Jeff Cook-McCormac, a Republican lobbying in Albany for marriage equality, pressured his colleagues to vote for marriage for two years. After the bill passed, he received a call from one state legislator who cried as he apologized for opposing marriage equality in the past.
15. Washington State’s Marriage Roadmap Started in the 1970s
Washington gained marriage in 2012, thanks to the work of pioneers like Cal Anderson, who passed away in 1995 before he could see the work of equality complete. Cal, the first openly gay legislator in Washington state, is a real hero of ours: once, when liquor authorities were harassing a gay bar for holding an underwear night, Cal stripped down and dared them to arrest him. After he died, his work was picked up by Ed Murray, who was instrumental in passing the marriage bill in 2012.
16. A Straight Woman Discovered that for Years, Queers Were Saying the Exact Wrong Thing About Marriage
Go back and look at the marriage ads from most of the 2000s. They’re about rights, and fairness, and money, and the law. It turns out that those messages made straight voters think that LGBTs want to get married for political or economic reasons, not because they’re in love. Thalia Zepatos, a straight woman working for a marriage campaign, noticed that there might be a better way to talk about marriage after she saw that voters cared more about fictional gay couples on the show E.R. than real-life LGBT rights.
17. You Don’t Have to Get Married
Sure, we have the freedom to marry now. But we also have something else: the freedom NOT to marry. You can make a choice. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on LGBTs to be wed (even more than there has been for straights) but it’s okay to tell people: “nope. By choosing not to marry, I’m exercising just as much freedom as couples who get hitched.”
Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s lots more stories where these came from — some big, some small, some lost to time and others repeated over and over. And you can read all about a whole bunch of them in Defining Marriage — free to download until the end of the week!