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Forcing the Spring

A TOUR DE FORCE of groundbreaking reportage by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jo Becker, Forcing the Spring is the definitive account of five remarkable years in American civil rights history: when the United States experienced a tectonic shift on the issue of marriage equality. Beginning with the historical legal challenge of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Becker expands the scope to encompass all aspects of this momentous struggle, offering a gripping behind-the-scenes narrative told with the lightning pace of the greatest legal thrillers.

First-rate reporting informs this thrilling narrative of hope.
— Kirkus Review

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CHANNELING THE EXTENDED LEGAL BATTLE over California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage into an engaging narrative, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Becker presents a thorough, perceptive read. Beginning with private conversations among friends and moving all the way to the Supreme Court, Becker constructs the legal story with the privilege of generous access to the plaintiffs and legal team that fought for marriage equality. Along the way, everyone from President Obama to director/actor Rob Reiner and current Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin find their way into the action. Becker navigates the vast amount of legal history, backroom conversations, media wrangling, and personal stories with an ease that makes what could otherwise be a demanding or partisan story into learned political journalism. While the tendency to paint the fight for gay marriage as the pinnacle of gay rights might dismay those involved in other aspects of the political struggle, Becker's insights into the legal process are evenhanded. In the end, the book stands testament to good political writing and a wealth of information made alive through prose. © Publishers Weekly


How the President Got to ‘I Do’ on Same-Sex Marriage

The New York Times Magazine Cover Story, April 26, 2014

This article is adapted from “Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality,” to be published this month by Penguin Press.

BY PRESIDENTIAL FUND-RAISING STANDARDS, the dinner at the St. Regis hotel in Washington in April 2011 was an intimate one. President Obama made the rounds, moving among the dozens of people in attendance, including Chad Griffin, a 37-year-old political operative known for his ability to raise money in Hollywood and for his work on trying to legalize same-sex marriage. It was Griffin who persuaded the conservative lawyer Theodore B. Olson and the liberal attorney David Boies, adversaries in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case, to bring a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, the amendment banning same-sex marriage that voters approved in 2008.

Griffin and a team of veteran political operatives were using the litigation to mount a campaign intended to frame same-sex marriage as a civil right. They were working to create a political climate that would make the Supreme Court, which was disinclined to get too far out in front of public opinion, comfortable enough to rule in their favor. But the president was standing in their way. His opposition to same-sex marriage had been cited repeatedly by Proposition 8’s defenders as evidence that people who wanted to retain the traditional definition of marriage were not motivated by prejudice. Though Obama had recently taken to saying that his views on the matter were “evolving,” Griffin worried that they were moving too slowly to help with his cause.

For Griffin, who grew up in Arkansas and struggled to come out as gay, the legal fight was about more than just the ability to wed. Bans like Proposition 8 sent a signal that there was something inherently wrong with gay men and lesbians and, in his view, amounted to a kind of state sanctioning of a host of ills, from schoolyard bullying to hate crimes to statistics that showed that gay teenagers were far more likely than their straight counterparts to contemplate suicide. As he watched the president move from table to table at the St. Regis, chatting and smiling and taking questions, Griffin waited for his turn. When Obama finally arrived, he willed himself to be direct.

“Mr. President,” he said, “how can we help you evolve more quickly?”

When I spoke with Griffin a few days later, he recalled Obama’s saying, “I think you can tell from what I have done so far the direction that I am headed.” The president was referring to his successful push to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibited openly gay men and lesbians from serving, and his administration’s decision to stop supporting in federal court the Defense of Marriage Act, a Clinton-era law known as DOMA that denied federal spousal benefits to gay couples who married where it was already legal, in five states and the District of Columbia.

“The sense I got from him,” Griffin said, “was, ‘Give me credit — look what I have already done.’ ” But Obama’s campaign for a second term was in full swing, and he was not going to be pushed any further on the issue. A few months later at a fund-raiser in Los Angeles, Griffin had a private conversation with Michelle Obama, in which she indicated that her husband had given as much support as he could at the time.

Her message, he told his team, was clear: “Hang in there with us, and we’ll be with you after the election.”

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