Marriage Equality Mess

Is Jealousy Behind The Controversy Surrounding The New Marriage Equality Book “Forcing The Spring?”


Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative reporter Jo Becker’s new book Forcing the Spring: Inside The Fight For Marriage Equality has been out for a mere week, but has already become the most controversial book of 2014. The reasons behind the controversy are myriad, but all seem to boil down to the opinion of a few very powerful gay bloggers that the book is at best a hagiography of HRC President Chad Griffin that omits crucial players in the decades long fight for marriage equality and at worst a work of fiction parading as truth, “access” journalism at its very worst. One nagging question, however, is this: is that all there is to the criticism, or is there more at work here?

In mid-April, renowned conservative writer and blogger Andrew Sullivan was among the first to pounce on Forcing the Spring, in a reaction to the book’s admittedly hyperbolic initial paragraph, which compares Chad Griffin to Rosa Parks and traces the start of the modern marriage equality movement to Griffin’s dismay at the passing of Prop 8 on election night 2008.

For Becker, until the still-obscure Griffin came on the scene, the movement for marriage equality was a cause “that for years had largely languished in obscurity.” I really don’t know how to address that statement, because it is so wrong, so myopic and so ignorant it beggars belief that a respectable journalist could actually put it in print. 

Sullivan’s reach and power is paralleled by only a few, and it is no wonder that after his initial post, the story started to pick up steam in the media.  A quick google search will reveal pages upon pages of articles saying basically the same thing in different ways, so there is no need to rehash them all. Instead, it is important to gauge the reactions of those whose reach are equal to that of Sullivan, namely Huffpo Gay Voices editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile and John Aravosis, the editor of Americablog.

Michelangelo Signorile

In his piece The Worst Problem With Jo Becker’s Book On The Fight For Marriage EqualitySignorile hones in on another major issue that activists and bloggers have with the book, namely that it is heavily influenced by the insider access to Chad Griffin that she was granted during its creation.

Writing an introduction, and giving historical context here and there throughout the book, likely would have spared Becker the attacks. That she didn’t do so betrays the fact that Becker got all her information from the insiders to whom she had access, blinded by that access and their star power. And that brings us to the more egregious problem with Forcing the Spring, which no introduction would have solved. Becker offensively and consistently undercuts other people’s work, distorting the truth in an attempt to give her insiders credit for…everything.

Americablog’s John Aravosis cosigns this opinion, but given the insider access he and previous writer Joe Sudbay had to the White House and the influence they had on generating media attention regarding the White House’s reaction to DOMA (and the subsequent dismantling of it), the criticism seems to have some ulterior motives.

But Becker doesn’t mention the fact that the “activists” who caused the firestorm were Joe Sudbay and me, writing on AMERICAblog.  Joe had managed to get a copy of the administration’s brief before anyone else in the media, or activist world, had it. Both of us being lawyers, we went through the brief and ripped it to shreds, piece by piece, over the ensuing hours — publishing minute-by-minute updates on AMERICAblog.

The opinion of Aravosis is the most fascinating, as it brings up a fundamental question about the criticism and the voices that it’s coming from that nobody seems to be asking: are these prominent activists unhappy because the work of countless others was glossed over, or because their work was glossed over?

Indeed, save for the Signorile piece, most of the written criticism of Forcing the Spring is littered with references to past dalliances with the fight for marriage equality that their authors have personally been involved in. That is not to say that their contributions aren’t worthy of inclusion in some way, but the first rule in authoring a book is to tell a story that has a very specific start and finish. There are many stories to be told about the decades-long fight for marriage equality that has still not come to a definitive end, and Forcing the Spring doesn’t seem to be anything more than just one of them.

In the age of hashtag activism and Facebook “protests,” it has become easier than ever before for the thoughts of a very powerful few to rile up the emotions of many. A Facebook page for a protest of Jo Becker’s book signing on Friday afternoon in San Francisco has popped up, though with 11 confirmed and 7 “maybes” three days prior to the event, the “revolution” organizers are hoping for will likely be little more than a nuisance.

A look at the review page for Forcing the Spring on Amazon reveals many one-star reviews from people who more likely than not haven’t read the work, and were very obviously driven there by one or more of the pieces criticizing it. A very telling review is written by a visitor who states that “I haven’t read the entire book nor will I purchase it. I have read excerpts provided by Andrew Sullivan, Chris Geidner and others and they are enough to inform my opinion of this shameless PR piece written on behalf of those who lead the HRC.”

In stark contrast to the drubbing that it has gotten from the gay blogosphere, he book has gotten outright raves from mainstream media outlets. Entertainment Weekly gave the book an “A” and called it “a stunning account of the legal battles stemming from Prop 8″ that is “as taught and suspenseful as a novel.” According to Washington Post, Forcing the Spring is “a riveting legal drama” and “a spellbinder of a tale.” Not to be outdone, the holy grail of journalism The New York Times calls it “a stunningly intimate story” and “a great one nonetheless.”  

Jo Becker

So where does the truth lie in all of this? Likely somewhere in the middle. Jo Becker wrote a book that has divided activists and undoubtedly left out a great deal of people who’ve fought in the battle for marriage equality and is likely heavily influenced by those she had access to.

The book, which is bound to be outrageously successful and a likely New York Times bestseller because of the controversy, likely gets under the skin of those who have yet to have a professional “moment” akin to the one Ms. Becker is experiencing right now. This is regardless of how much their efforts have helped to move marriage equality to the “inevitable” place that it currently sits at in American society.

As Aravosis writes: “It only goes to prove something I learned long ago. History isn’t written by the victors. History is written by those who step up to write it.”

It will be fascinating to watch the reaction to whoever steps up next.




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  • inbama

    Imagining that Signorile takes marching orders from Andrew Sullivan is sheer lunacy.

    How much stock do you own in Penguin Press anyway?

  • MarionPaige

    It is true that history is written by the victors but, here’s the rub … the war isn’t over? Any book presenting Chad Griffin, AFAR and “Rob Reiner For Governor Incorporated” as heroes of a marriage equality struggle will in time be seen as a joke because ( a ) gay marriage isn’t / wasn’t the marriage equality movement that history will remember and; ( b ) the struggle for civil rights for gay people hasn’t ended.

    The basic flaw with same SEX marriage is that it still ties marriage to two sexually involved people when any number of people should be able to decide who they want to be legally connected to (whether they are or are not sexually involved).

  • malekmouzon

    I think it is unfair and erroneously high minded of us to judge these activists, bloggers, etc for wanting credit for their work. How are they any different from anyone else who wants recognition and more often payment for something they did. We don’t live in a free utopia. Why shouldn’t they be entitled to be upset or jealous that the work they did was ignored? Because it was altruistic? For the greater good?
    Whether or not they should be included the book is up to its author and her agenda or goal which may not have matched with theirs. But they’re entitled to their feelings. They’re human.
    At the end of the day they still live in the real world. A world where they have to make a living and pay their bills. And whether exposure in a book (possibly a best seller) provides historical clarity or an increased platform, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being upset at having your contributions ignored. They never purported themselves to be saints…just people who care.

  • ColinATL

    Rob Smith, what is the relationship between your book publisher and Jo Becker’s publisher? This entire “opinion” seems fraught with back scratching motivations…

  • thomwatson

    Had Jo Becker merely given her book a more specific subtitle, e.g., “Inside the Fight over Prop 8,” had she not started the book suggesting that “the revolution” began in 2008 with Chad Griffin as a white Rosa Parks, had the publicity engine around it not portrayed it as the definitive story, and had the grant she received not been for the purpose of writing a history of marriage equality (not a history of one case that didn’t even result in marriage equality anywhere outside California), this likely would have turned out very differently, and the criticisms of Becker’s book would take a very different form. Becker says critics are criticizing the book she didn’t write; I say she didn’t write the book her grantor paid for, the book her publicity firm has been publicizing, or even the book her title and first paragraph suggest it is.

  • MrRoboto

    Wow, somebody at Queerty really needs to read Tobias Wolff’s thoughtful and comprehensive takedown of this one.

  • MarionPaige

    I will also add that “once a fucking nobody like Harvey Milk got elevated to Rosa Parks Status” it had to only be a matter of time before that same propaganda machine turned some other person most gay people have never heard of into “gay icon status”. I would bet money that most of San Francisco had no idea who Harvey Milk was when Milk was alive.

  • Ottoman

    The comparison to Rosa Parks is actually apt. Parks was a worker in MLKs organization who was selected to defy the bus regulations and become the face of the struggle. In part because she was so pretty. Blacks had been sitting in the front of the bus for decades and getting arrested in protest.

    How many of you remember Claudette Colvin? She was the very dark skinned 15 year old, pregnant (possibly carrying a rape baby) girl who refused to sit in the back of the bus before Parks. But MLK and associates decided she was too unsympathetic to be the face of the movement and win a court case. So in comes Parks, and no offense to her because she was brave and integral to the struggle. But she is not the trailblazing hero portrayed by history and lionizing her discounts the thirty years of bus riding civil disobedience that came before her.

  • DCNimbus

    I wonder how many people actually READ the entire book. It’s sounds like a lot of sour grapes going on among people who believe THEY were the ones who started the revolution. I’m going to write about irrelevant gay drama….and see how much gay drama I can muster up…Jo Becker is laughing all the way to the BANK!

  • DCNimbus

    @Ottoman: Exactly. Again, I think people who are criticizing this reference don’t understand the reference and don’t understand history.

  • viciouslies

    @DCNimbus: But even under that analogy/comparison, how would GRIFFIN be analogous to Parks? Wouldn’t that role be someone more like the couples in the Prop 8 lawsuit or Edie Windsor?

    This whole book is just a Chad Griffin blow job because he wants to take full credit for a movement that everyone BUT him made happen. His case didn’t even achieve the goal!

  • viciouslies

    This book is crap because it asserts that no one but Griffin and AFER were working for marriage equality when, in fact, all the major gains were made by other orgs/people. GLAD and Mary Bonauto won the first case in Massachusetts. The ACLU, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights originally won marriage in California before Prop 8 banned it. A plethora of organizations won marriage in the 17 states where it’s now legal.

    This book makes it sound like Griffin was the only one working on this and even credits him and Boies/Olson for the ACLU/Robbie Kaplan victory in Windsor, a case they had ZERO to do with. Chad Griffin is just another in a long line of HRC shills who love to let other people do the work then swoop in and try to take the credit. BARF.

  • MarionPaige

    @Ottoman. Rosa Parks was the actual aggrieved party who’s civil rights were violated. Since she was actually arrested, she was the proper “aggrieved party” to sue claiming that her arrest was unlawfully discriminatory or that the public policy that resulted in her arrest was unlawfully discriminatory. In the Prop 8 Case, Chad Griffin and AFAR etc. were not the aggrieved parties. As far as I know, Chad Griffin never tried to marry anyone of the same sex in CA (is he even a resident of CA?). “The aggrieved parties in AFAR’s Prop 8 appeal were recruited”. AFAR was created to fund a challenge to Prop 8. So, by your own description of Rosa Parks (assuming that description to be true), Chad Griffin was no Rosa Parks.

    It is been rumored by more than one person that Rob Reiner and his wife are the real manipulators in re AFAR in that the ultimate objective of AFAR was to serve raise Reiner’ political profile for an ultimate run by him for Governor of CA (instead he seems to have ended up yelling FUCK a lot in the movie Wolf of Wall Street).

  • Ottoman

    @MarionPaige: Perhaps Rosa Parks was an aggrieved party in a court case but her arrest was staged by the organization that paid her as a publicity stunt in order to challenge the law. She was not just some average member of the public like Edie Windsor.

    If you are going to claim that the Prop 8 plaintiffs were recruited on purpose, then by your own definition both Rosa Parks and Chad Griffin were part of an organization that orchestrated an artificial situation in order to conduct a lawsuit.

    Chad Griffin has more in common with Rosa Parks than not, they were both insiders working the system to get a court case done. If you’re looking for real world heros that didn’t have backing and agendas, then Edie Windsor and Claudette Colvin are your girls.

    “Assuming that description to be true” – What do you expect from someone not willing to take a few minutes to verify whether blacks had been protesting the bus laws and refusing to sit in the back for decades before Rosa Parks. Even when given the name of someone else who had. Especially someone MLK had rejected as too black for white audiences.

  • MarionPaige

    As The Bitchless Blog pointed out during the Prop 8 challenge, The Pro Prop 8 people COULD have made a significant legal issue of the fact that Griffin and AFER were not aggrieved parties and that Griffin and AFER had no legal standing to sue to overturn Prop 8. Griffin (possibly unwisely) continues to this day to make no secret of the fact that he (and Reiner) wanted to mount a challenge to Prop 8 and that they created AFER and recruited plaintiffs to mount that challenge.

  • Ottoman

    I guess if Chad Griffin had co-opted other peoples struggles and attempted to stage a fake marriage in which he was a part, then he would be exactly like Rosa Parks.

    “When asked why she is little known and why everyone thinks only of Rosa Parks, Colvin says the NAACP and all the other black organizations felt Parks would be a good icon because “she was an adult. They didn’t think teenagers would be reliable.”

    She also says Parks had the right hair and the right look.

    “Her skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class,” says Colvin. “She fit that profile.”

    David Garrow, a historian and the author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says people may think that Parks’ action was spontaneous, but black civic leaders had been thinking about what to do about the Montgomery buses for years.

    After Colvin’s arrest, she found herself shunned by parts of her community. She experienced various difficulties and became pregnant. Civil rights leaders felt she was an inappropriate symbol for a test case.

    Parks was the secretary of the NACCP. She was well-known and respected and, says Garrow, Parks had a “natural gravitas” and was an “inherently impressive person.”

    At the same time, Garrow believes attention to Colvin is a healthy corrective, because “the real reality of the movement was often young people and often more than 50 percent women.” The images you most often see are men in suits.

    Hoose says he believes Colvin understands the pragmatism that pushed Parks to the fore, but “on the other hand, she did it.”

  • MarionPaige

    So, you are willing to drag a dead black woman through the mud simply to make the point that she’s no better than Chad Griffin?

    A years long string of black people being arrested for not moving to the back of the bus was THE WAY TO LEGALLY ESTABLISH AN AGGRIEVED CLASS. Had Rosa Parks alone been arrested (or any of the single individuals only been arrested) in theory, they could have only sought relief for themselves. By documenting a years long list of aggrieved parties IN ADDITION TO PARKS, it was possible for activists to truthfully argue that A CLASS OF PEOPLE were adversely affected by the targeted law. It is my understanding that Parks benefited from the law being struck down NOT because her particular lawsuit was decided in her favor but rather because she was a member of THE CLASS OF AGGRIEVED PEOPLE who successfully got the law struck down via a different lawsuit.

    Chad Griffin and this idiot book are exactly what the fucking gay marriage movement deserve. It was a fabricated movement created by a little inbred group of White Homosexuals.

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