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Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality

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A New York Times  Notable Book of the Year

A Washington Post  Best Book of the Year (Nonfiction)

A Kirkus  Best Book of the Year

“ [A] riveting legal drama, a snapshot in time, when the gay rights movement altered course and public opinion shifted with the speed of a bullet train...Becker's most remarkable accomplishment is to weave a spellbinder of a tale that, despite a finale reported around the world, manages to keep readers gripped until the very end.” - The Washington Post

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 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.

For nearly five years, Becker was given free rein in the legal and political war rooms where the strategy of marriage equality was plotted. She takes us inside the remarkable campaign that rebranded a movement; into the Oval Office where the president and his advisors debated how to respond to a fast-changing political landscape; into the chambers of the federal judges who decided that today's bans on same-sex marriage were no more constitutional than previous century's bans on interracial marriage; and into the mindsets of the Supreme Court judges who decided the California case and will likely soon decide the issue for the country at large. From the state-by state efforts to win marriage equality at the ballot box to the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down a law that banned legally married gay and lesbian couples from receiving federal benefits, Becker weaves together the political and legal forces that reshaped a nation.

Forcing the Spring begins with California's controversial ballot initiative Proposition 8, which banned gay men and lesbians from marrying the person they loved. This electoral defeat galvanized an improbable alliance of opponents to the ban, with political operatives and Hollywood royalty enlisting attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies—the opposing counsels in the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore case—to join together in a unique bipartisan challenge to the political status quo. Despite initial opposition from the gay rights establishment, the case against Proposition 8 would ultimately force the issue of marriage equality all the way to the Supreme Court, transforming same-sex marriage from a partisan issue into a modern crisis of civil rights.
Shuttling between the twin American power centers of Hollywood and Washington—and based on access to all the key players in the Justice Department and the White House—Becker offers insider coverage on the true story of how President Obama “evolved” to embrace marriage equality. What starts out as a tale of an epic legal battle grows into the story of the evolution of a country. Becker shows how the country reexamined its opinions on same-sex marriage, an issue that raced along with a snowballing velocity which astounded veteran political operatives. Here is the ringside account of this unprecedented change, the fastest shift in public opinion ever seen in modern American politics.

Clear-eyed and even-handed, Forcing the Spring is political and legal journalism at its finest, offering an unvarnished perspective on the extraordinary transformation of America and an inside look into the fight to win the rights of marriage and full citizenship for all.

480 pages, Hardcover

First published April 22, 2014

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Jo Becker

10 books2 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 66 reviews
Profile Image for Bob H.
449 reviews35 followers
April 9, 2016
I've read the book through, and can say that if you ignore the conclusory opening and closing chapters -- the flawed premises that the marriage revolution started in 2008 and that this was a decisive victory at the Supreme Court -- it's OK as a courtroom drama. The Proposition 8 Federal trial and appeals takes up most of the book and once the case gets going, her narrative is straightforward enough. She did seem, according to her source notes, to have access to attorneys Ted Olsen and Charles Cooper, to Hollywood activist Rob Reiner, and to Judge Walker, whose personal reflections are perhaps the one big revelation in this book.

Just as background, I was one of those pushing domestic-partner (registry) ordinances 20+ years ago, and took a low-level part in the No on 8 campaign and saw its inadequacies. I was one of 18,000 marriages done in mid-2008 and at risk if Prop 8 passed. Still, it's irksome for her to conclude that the struggle only started in Nov. 2008, when in fact lawyers Olsen and Boies (and Ms. Becker, for that matter) happened to get into this story just as they reached a tipping point, after all the years of incremental and concerted work. And it's worth noting that this case's final outcome was something of a fizzle: the Supreme Court invalidated Prop 8 only on a matter of standing, not the merits, and the decisive case that session was Windsor v. U.S., which invalidated the Federal anti-marriage law, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Perhaps Ms. Becker couldn't have known that Edie Windsor's case would empower a new wave of Federal rulings on state anti-marriage-equality laws, which only now (spring 2014) are reaching circuit-court level and heading for the Supreme Court. Still, it would be nice if we had the same kind of book about Edie Windsor and the anti-DOMA cases that paralleled hers, or, for that matter, it would be good to see a stand-alone memoir by Judge Walker.

So, this serves simply as a trial story, written in a newspaperish and somewhat dramatic way. It's not the final story, nor does it help the reader appreciate what this story is in full context (see, e.g., Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution for histories of the movement). For that matter, given Ms. Becker's invocations of Harvey Milk (or his City Hall bust) it would help to read The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk to realize just how far the movement came from 1978 to 2008. But you, the reader, will have to do that reading, and I wonder if she did.

Like the Supreme Court ruling on this case, this book ends up being about procedure. Not the merits.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 30 books58 followers
December 28, 2014
Forcing the Spring actually picks up in the second half. I found the opening mean and ungenerous to LGBT activists, many who had been working for years on queer equality. The second section is a blow by blow account of the trial in SF and it is about as interesting as watching a trial, which is to say, paint a bedroom and then watch the paint dry for two weeks while a chemist explains to you the process of paint drying. After the trial though, things pick up and the book traces an interesting trajectory of the changes in the USA leading up to the case being heard by the Supreme Court.
I am sympathetic to Becker in the end. She selected the Olson Boies case as the one that would make history for same sex marriage. It just didn't work out that it did. The Windsor case did. That case however was argued primarily by women (Robbie Kaplan) and lesbians and was about an old lesbian. I ask ironically who wants to write about old lesbians when there are really interesting young gay men to write about and august white guy lawyers? Pity because it's the broads who made history. Becker is a NYT journalist. The old chestnut that journalism is the first draft of history is true. This book is a first draft of the history of marriage equality. Others are coming and will focus more generously on activists and will locate women more prominently.
Profile Image for Jean Marie Angelo.
504 reviews15 followers
April 30, 2015
This week another major argument for same sex marriage was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. We'll know in June how the justices will rule.

I was keenly interested in learning the strategy and background that went into our side winning the two major cases that went to SCOTUS in 2013. For me, my spouse, and my activist friends, that day in June — when we learned that Prop 8 in California and DOMA were stuck down — was exhilarating.

So, back to Forcing the Spring. Jo Becker is a journalist for the New York Times, and she had inside access to the team who fought Proposition 8. While she interviews the key players in the DOMA case — the gracious and determined Edie Windsor and her attorney — Becker wasn't as close to that camp. Alas, we get a book that focuses, at times, on Prop 8 trivia, while we are panting to learn more about Edie and her legal marriage to Thea, which happened when both were in their late 70s. The first half of this book was hard to get through. Prop 8 was fought by Hollywood celebrities, their friends, and two celebrity lawyers — Olsen and Boies. Give me more Edie, please.

The LOFT, an LGBT community center in White Plains, gave Edie an award in 2012 — the year before her case went to the Supreme Court. She was 82, elegant, and articulate. She took the podium and said, "Thanks for giving me this humongous award. Now let me tell you why I am suing the United States of America."

There is another book here and I hope Edie is writing it.

My other complaint about Becker. She deified Lance Black and Chad Griffin — some younger, new, Hollywood connected activists. And demonized activists like Evan Wolfson, who was fighting for marriage even years before I came out of the closet. Really? Was that necessary?
Profile Image for Matthew.
2 reviews1 follower
January 25, 2015
I loved this book. It had a great balance of legal depth and personal drama. As a Californian , I was completely unaware of the DOMA struggle going on in New York while the whole Prop 8 battle went on here. I also was delighted to learn about the significant Republican support same-sex marriage has begun to capture. Well written and easy to read.
Profile Image for Shawn Fettig.
27 reviews
August 29, 2016
Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality - A Review

With Forcing the Spring, Jo Becker writes a tour-de-force that is enhanced by its level of insider information to the ultimate 2013 Supreme Court case Hollingsworth v. Perry. Becker traces the case from its very inception, following the passage of Proposition 8 in California, eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry by ballot initiative, to the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court that the plaintiffs (supporters of Prop 8) did not have standing to intervene. This decision paved the way for same-sex marriages to continue in California. Given her access to many of the actors in the case as it was playing out, Becker is able to recount aspects of the story that would otherwise be lost to history – key decision points, development of strategy, and personal details that enrich the tale.

This book captures an important historical moment in the struggle for marriage equality and, on a grander stage, the LGBT+ movement, in general. In the context of civil rights, both to posterity and to perpetuity, Becker, in telling this story, makes a valuable contribution. This story recollects a pivotal moment in the marriage equality endgame. Certainly, despite the thrust of the narrative at times, marriage equality did not begin with the fight against Prop 8, but it does represent strategic key decisions made by dedicated individuals to take the fight to the end at this time, over the objection of more experienced voices, angling for a more pragmatic approach.

For people like me – ravenous readers of courtroom drama and/or advocates of marriage equality – this narrative nonfiction is one of the contemporary best in its genre. The author has a firm grasp of drama and successfully uses every literary trick to hook the reader. Even when I knew the outcome of certain situations, I was still traveling through the story with a heightened sense of suspense. This is no small homage to Becker. It is a monumental task for authors, in recounting historical events, to hook and maintain the reader’s attention as they are pulled toward a known outcome. In this book, Becker masters the art.

It cannot be overstated that the actors, especially the lawyers (Ted Olson, the man who successfully argued for George W. Bush in the infamous Supreme Court case, Bush v. Gore, and David Boies, the man who unsuccessfully argued for Al Gore in the same case) were taking a huge risk in seeking full marriage equality from the United States Supreme Court at the time that they did. Were it to fail, there is a very strong argument to be made that it would have set the marriage equality movement back years, if not decades. To some degree, the reason this is such a compelling story is because of the outcome – which is spun as a win for marriage equality when, at best, it was a draw, with the Court ruling that Prop 8 supporters had improperly brought the case). But, for all intents and purposes, this story could just as easily have been a loss (at one point, according to Becker, Boies puts their chances at success at 50/50), in which case, we would all be reading the heroic stories of those who cautioned against such rapid movement for marriage equality, and bemoaning the foolhardy arrogance of Olson and Boies. So, in a sense, while the book portrays this team as brilliant and calculated - that the stars aligned to bring these individuals together for this moment - there is a certain aura of luck cast over the events that tarnishes the carefully polished gleam, to some small degree.

Becker has received some criticism for advocating the story, to the detriment of narration. This is not unwarranted. The book is billed as a journalist’s inside story of the fight for marriage equality; however, there is a marked opinion to the telling. Becker, by her own account, supports marriage equality and clearly admires the team seeking to destroy barriers to marriage for same-sex couples (in the first paragraph she cleverly equates Chad Griffin, one of her protagonists, to Rosa Parks). Further than this, though, it is evident in the writing. When Becker does not have much access to an individual or does not find them appealing (either to the story or to her own liking), she writes things like, “Boies grinned. Some people become bashful when paid a compliment. He was not among them.” It is worth noting, however, that Becker was granted near full access to the Olson/Boies team, and almost none to the opposing team. As a result, much of the story is, necessarily, told from the perspective of those fighting against Prop 8 – which could explain why it appears to be such advocacy.

Becker also reaches to structure and support a narrative that marriage equality required the marriage (no pun intended) of conservatives and liberals alike. The author almost fawns over Ted Olson (the conservative) and his relationship with the story’s liberals. The reader is regularly reminded, via anecdote (and sometimes quite bluntly), that Olson and, by extension, his conservatism, is an indispensable tool in the success of marriage equality. She treats Ken Mehlman – a gay political operative who maneuvered George W. Bush’s successful 2004 presidential campaign – likewise. The liberal characters, on the other hand, while quite strong and influential activists in and of themselves, are often relegated to repeating how surprised they are that they actually like Olson and Mehlman. This narrative construct is, almost certainly, offensive to marriage equality advocates, such as Evan Wolfson, Tim Gill, and Andrew Sullivan (to name just a few) that dedicated their lives to the cause, and were given overt short shrift in this book. In fact, the author seems, at times, to take great pains to extricate herself from journalistic discipline, specifically to take petty potshots at these LGBT+ community giants.

In the end, the struggle for any author is appeal. In structuring the story the way that she has, Becker weaves a riveting tale, but the appeal may be limited. Despite her best efforts to cast a wide marketing net, best evidenced by her lionizing of a conservative’s dedication to the fight, her lack of journalistic narration might limit this book’s appeal to a relatively fixed audience – liberal supporters of marriage equality.
201 reviews11 followers
December 22, 2014
Marriage equality is one of the larger issues I've always advocated for as a bleeding heart Liberal. Knowing both family members and numerous friends who consider themselves to be either bisexual, gay, or something other than straight certainly brings the issue home to a more personal level. So in other words, I was looking forward to reading Forcing the Spring and I enjoyed it for the most part.

However, my biggest problem with the book is the way it was sold to the reader. It was sold as an inside look at everything revolving around the marriage equality movement. What was going on in the White House, the Supreme Court, the war rooms of the cases themselves, etc. We got some of that, especially the latter, to an extent. However, the "behind the scenes" portions for the White House and or Supreme Court are limited at best. Furthermore, while it is given some attention throughout the book, Windsor is largely a side story, which seems extremely surprising considering its the case now being used across the country to validate same sex marriage rights everywhere.

There's also the issue where sometimes the prose is a bit "Hollywoodish" or in other words, the book seems poised to be a big-screen movie within a couple years of its release. There is some real honesty about the book and especially about the stories involved. However, the way some scenes are examined seem more out of a motion picture than anything. Perhaps that's exactly how the events played out, but that just how it comes off to me. Also, the book clocks in at 430 pages but sometimes feels far longer.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed Forcing the Spring and getting a deeper look at what helped bring about some of the biggest changes in one of the most important issues facing America today.
Profile Image for Kezia.
203 reviews29 followers
December 1, 2015
You have to sympathize with the writer, who thought this would be the case to establish national marriage equality. Because it wasn't, it's an anticlimax, through no fault of Becker's. It's no spoiler to say it was in fact a couple of nurses from suburban Detroit whose case made it all the way to SCOTUS, without support from the Hollywood elite, million-dollar lawyers, highly paid political consultants, or PR gurus. Though that case was in full swing by 2013, it doesn't even merit a passing mention in this book. Some speculate SCOTUS ruled as it did in Hollingsworth v. Perry because it expected the far more precedent-setting Michigan case to appear on their docket before long.

That's perhaps unfair, and it's equally unfair to blame Becker for not including more about the decades of LGBT civil rights struggles prior to Prop 8. That the book is marketed as "Inside the fight for marriage equality" is also unfair. It's "Inside one case that was particularly high profile." Becker gambled on Prop 8, not Edie Windsor, not the Michigan nurses, and lost, so we're lucky the book made it to print at all. But that unfortunate subtitle should have been changed.

Throughout the book, Becker appears starstruck, and not just by Rob Reiner, Lance Black, and the case's celebrity entourage. She's starstruck by the powerful attorneys, by Cleve Jones, by the President's inner circle. I admire her narrative style, in making a suspenseful story out of a lot of legal proceedings, but all that starstrucking gets in the way. This does not extend to the plaintiffs, whom she treats very respectfully, and I appreciated her ethical choice not to exploit them in any way.

Overall a worthwhile read for students of the movement, SCOTUS and legal nerds, but we'll have to wait to see if a book about the true fight -- and the victory -- for marriage equality is ever written.
Profile Image for Christian Larsen.
35 reviews4 followers
September 23, 2014
This was a fascinating inside look into one of the most contentious cases in recent memory. The author followed the plaintiffs throughout the litigation process and conducted interviews with the defendants and judges afterwards. It leans heavily in favor of marriage equality, but so do I! Everyone should read it for both the insider commentary and to examine the arguments for and against marriage equality in the light of court argument. It is a captivating read, but then, what legal history isn't ;)
Profile Image for Michelle Farley.
37 reviews
August 9, 2014
I enjoyed this book on some level, but I found it hard to get through. The reality is the equality movement didn't start in 2008 with Prop 8, and it didn't end in 2013 with the SCOTUS ruling. This an in-depth look at people who worked very hard on one case.
Profile Image for Vince Caparas.
159 reviews15 followers
December 27, 2020
Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality by Jo Becker

Quick Impression:

This is merely one chapter in the broader story towards marriage equality. A fascinating read, this publication was controversial when it was released for it’s uneven coverage of grassroots and racial contributions to the gay rights movement, and it’s heavily heteronormative lens. Despite these shortcomings, I found it a valuable work of reportage that, read today, highlights that the route to progress is hardly ever perfect or pure.

The Long Version:

I have so many thoughts about this book. That said, I will start this “review” by saying that I found it incredibly informative, valuable, and incredibly accessible reading. I’ll be honest and say that I only knew of the Supreme Court decisions of June 2013 in very broad strokes. I had followed the campaign to overturn Proposition 8 more or less via social media and rejoiced with the rest of the world when it was overthrown. Beyond that, my knowledge on the subject, I imagine, was like most people. As a work of reportage on the case, this book gives a great beginner’s overview of the cases, the players, the legal arguments for each side, and the verdict.

What the book does not do, is apply a critical reading or analysis of this story. Becker’s coverage is typical of the reporting on such issues in the Obama-era. There’s a sense of “mission accomplished” self-satisfaction to a lot of the political writing prior to 2016 and this book no exception. To be fair, not many people could have predicted the world would be as it is today. However, through the power of hindsight, reading a book like this, which gives enormous credit to liberal elites, party bipartisanship, Hollywood moguls, and white heteronormative queers, one can certainly look back to a quainter, more idealistic time. The fact that Trumpism and the political tribalism that exists today likely grew out of this rapturous self congratulatory environment is really hard to dismiss.

Nevertheless, I still think this book is worth reading both as a historical telling of a landmark verdict, but also as a cultural artifact of a very different time. As a gay man, there’s plenty I didn’t know about the two cases that were decided on in the summer of 2013. To begin, how many people are aware that the main lawyer fighting for marriage equality, Ted Olson, was also a staunch Republican conservative who argued in front of the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, securing George W. Bush’s presidency? How many people know that the main lawyer arguing against marriage equality, Chuck Cooper, has an out and proud lesbian daughter with whom he is very close? How many people know that upon filing of the lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8, many gay rights organizations did not support litigation? Finally, how many people know that Chief Justice Roberts, and that conservative lion of the bench, Antonin Scalia, actually voted with the majority to overturn Prop 8, while liberal Sonya Sotomayor and Anthony Kennedy dissented? (The reasons for this are infinitely more complex than can be written about here, so if you’re interested let’s talk about it offline.) All these facts and more left me floored about how ignorant I had been about this historical landmark.

While at the time this book was likely regarded as a victory lap, reading it today it seems like a litany of warnings for progressive politics: purity politics can sometimes derail you; bipartisanship is essential to achieving anything worthwhile; centering whiteness in social movements does little to help other people of colour gain equality and recognition; reliance on Hollywood elites for support and funding can leave many politicians looking out of touch with everyday affairs. It really is fascinating how the book has aged in the last 6 years since it’s been published, as this surely was not the author’s intention.

Despite its flaws I highly encourage people to pick this book up. There’s a lot to learn and discuss.
Profile Image for Joseph Stieb.
Author 1 book149 followers
March 4, 2021
A book that actually made me think there is some good in this world. Becker takes you inside both the human story of the challenges to and eventual defeat of prop 8 as well as the legal story. The book is a pretty linear narrative that doesn't discuss a ton of gay history, but if you have a little background there it isn't a problem. Overall, it is inspiring and heart-warming, but also highly informative on both how the justice system works and the arguments of both sides.

Two fascinating aspects of this story stood out to me. The first was the amount of image control and concern about the direction of history that went into this case. The anti-prop 8 (ie, pro gay marriage) team had to defy most of established LGBT advocacy groups to launch this case because the estab wanted to pursue the political process more incrementally. Prop 8, which passed in liberal California, was one of many blows this approach took in the 2000s, and it (plus the Obama election, which created an "anything is possible" vibe on the team) prompted the bold challenge to the law. The team rigorously avoided A. Looking "too gay" or straying too far from the norm; hence the choice two fairly "normal" couples to bring the suit (a pride parade, this effort wasn't) and B. Going too far in saying the other side was motivated by hatred. Of course, the case hinged in part on the argument that Prop 8 was motivated by animus and not by any compelling, rational state interest, which was definitely true. Also, even the courts themselves, by the second Obama term, were starting to think that because gay marriage/rigths was advancing so quickly at the state level in a reversal of the previous decade that maybe it was better to rule narrowly. Of course, people's rights and equality shouldn't depend on the "direction of history," so I was a bit confused by this.

The 2nd really interesting aspect of this story is that the pro-prop 8 team's argument was so narrow. The Prop 8 movement, especially in evangelical and Mormon churches, was willing to say horrific things about gay people, but the legal team narrowed their case down to A. The vague claim that gay marriages would redefine the institution of marriage, which is inherently tied to childbearing and raising (a ridiculously easy argument to refute) and B. the argument that we should leave it to the states because, in a generally Burkean sense, we don't know how changing marriage will affect society at large. The second point is basically playing for time because there was no evidence in states and countries that had gay marriage that it harmed anyone or anything (in fact, it strengthens marriage). The first point is likely arguing that integrating baseball, or whatever, changed the nature of the game. Same game buddy; the only difference is natural procreation, but of course no one stops the elderly or the voluntarily childless or the infertile from marrying or would consider their marriages to be less than. So it was interesting that the anti-gay marriage case went out with a whimper rather than a bang; it was, I suppose, a great thing given that gay marriage has faded into normalcy in our society.

One caveat: this book takes you to the SC allowing Judge Vaughan's striking down of Prop 8 to stand as well as the striking down of DOMA in the US v WIndsor case. It does NOT take you all the way to Obergefell, which was mildly disappointing. Still a great book that made me hopeful about our country in a time when things haven't been great. Love wins.
438 reviews3 followers
September 22, 2019
Even though I knew about the major events that make up this book, even though I knew the ending before I started - this book was more compelling than any other I've read this year.

The fight for marriage equality is one that I am passionate about. I feel that it is the civil rights movement of my lifetime and I have watched at times in awe at how fast things are changing - and at times in abject frustration at some of the setbacks and deep-seeded hate that is still out there.

Jo Becker provides a behind the scenes look at people whose lives were changed dramatically (several times!) by the battle over Proposition 8 in California and by DOMA in the US. Her writing style is so clear and clean, that at times I forgot that I was reading and I felt like I was truly there - that I was a first-hand observer in the lives of the plaintiffs, lawyers and activists.

It was so interesting to read this in light of where our country is going, how in terms of social progress, the fight for marriage equality is FINALLY moving at a quicker pace. Becker writes in such a way that the reader is able to absorb a great deal of facts, court procedures and history without feeling overwhelmed. Each person has his/her own voice, and the action moves swiftly - causing me a few late nights.

I was fascinated by this book, by this story of people from all sides that came together to force necessary change. It was emotional without being flowery or sappy, it was powerful without being preachy, and above all, it felt fair.

I applaud Jo Becker for this amazing book and hope to see more from her.
27 reviews
March 3, 2019
I've read half the book. Gave up.

As someone who has spent decades battling for my family's equality, starting with personal struggles and debate with family and friends, battling prop 20 in California, working in Hawaii and California on campaigns, getting 'married' in the 2004 San Francisco weddings (which led to the eventual ruling on prop 8 btw), donating thousands of dollars and hours to organizations (including HRC), marching in uncounted protests, outreach to our Mormon community, even participating with our daughter in a 2006 White House egg roll as protest...

I find this book's reporting on our struggle not just an absolute revision of history, but also a deep insult to all of us. It’s not just the “boots on the ground” people, but the men, women and organizations that spent their lives in the struggle. An insult to the men and women who did the real work, the work that made the real changes. I'm grateful these two straight men did what they did, and for the straight allies that worked tirelessly, but they are not the two straight white knights (with their gay squire) that rode in to save us hapless gay peasants as the book purports to claim.

We will have to wait for a better, reality-based, recounting of the struggle.
Profile Image for Marlene.
2,947 reviews207 followers
November 3, 2014
Originally published at Reading Reality

I know that this is non-fiction, but it reads like a legal thriller. Even though the reader knows how the story ends, the “you are there” style of following the action keeps the reader on the edge of their seats all the same.

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling (or lack thereof) that legalized same-sex marriage in nine states, and U.S. District Appeals Court decisions the following day legalized the institution in five more, it seemed like a terrific time to take a look at the case that started the current trend towards marriage equality.

While Forcing the Spring is about a true-life case, it also seemed like an appropriate choice for Queer Romance Month, as it is a story about real same-sex couples searching for their happy ever after.

As I write this, the majority of U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriage, and the majority of the population of the U.S. lives in a state where it is legal.

On that infamous other hand, three of the seven states in which I have lived do not recognize same sex marriage. While this might not affect me personally, it does affect friends and loved ones.

And it is simply wrong. If the ability to procreate were a pre-requirement for marriage, my own marriage would be equally invalid. That may not give you chills but it certainly does me.

I also realized that saying it does not affect me personally is also wrong. No one is an island. The reduction or disavowal of fundamental rights for one group, for any group, because of an inherit characteristic of the members of the group leaves open the door that the rights of any group can be so diminished.

This book goes back to the beginning of the Prop 8 case, and reminds us just how difficult it can be to expand civil rights in this country. Equality under the law is not the same thing as functional equality, but it certainly has the power to move hearts and minds.

Which is what this book is all about. The moving of hearts and minds in the members of the courts of the U.S., of the general public, and even of the gay rights supporters who thought that this case was too much, too soon and might result in a setback in their overall goal of equal rights.

Two couples and a team of lawyers decided to push the case in spite of initial opposition. Marriage is a fundamental right, and every adult deserves the possibility of marrying the person that they love. (Finding that person is just as difficult as it ever was for all of us.)

The case began in California, after the passage of Prop 8. Prop 8 was an avowedly hate-based campaign to take away the rights of same-sex couples to marry that had been won in court. While Prop 8 barely passed, 52% for vs. 48% against, it marked yet another campaign where same-sex marriage had been beaten in the polls.

But the original merits of the case that had won the right in the first place were still valid. So the case was strategized and brought to trial; whether Prop 8 and the hate it espoused were constitutional; and whether the state had any rational justification for the law.

All the legal arguments, counter-arguments, setbacks and steps forward are outlined in the book in a narrative that explains both the law and the consequences for those who fought, and for those who waited and watched.

In the years between the initial filing of the suit and the final Supreme Court case, the universe changed. Because the plaintiffs didn’t just prove that there was no rational basis for the ban, but that there was no reason for it other than hate.

The line between Loving v. Virginia (the case that declared all the bans against interracial marriage were unconstitutional) and Hollingsworth v. Perry (the California case) is made crystal clear. Windsor v. United States struck down the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) paving the way for all the cases that have reached the courts in its wake.

Back to the book. It reads like a thriller. It kept me on the edge of my seat through all 500+ pages because it relates the events as they happened, and shows their effect not just on the intimate participants, but also on the world that watched, and waited, and most of all, changed.

Reality Rating A: The story has a “you are there” feeling because the author was embedded with the legal team and the plaintiffs for the California case. She really was there, and is able to convey the sense of exhilaration, anticipation and sometimes dread as the case unfolded. She sympathized with the group working to overturn Prop 8, and her sympathy and support is conveyed through her writing.

Because of the adversarial nature of our legal system, she naturally did not have the same access to the team defending Prop 8, or even to the other groups who were on the same side as the Prop 8 team but working different cases such as Windsor. While the Prop 8 defenders case has a strong sense of immediacy, her frank interviews with the other teams shows a sense of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” - by the time they were able to talk to her, the show was already over.

To those of us non-lawyers reading this courtroom drama, all the legal terms are not just fully explained, but the author helps us to understand the effect that each of the legal strategies will have both on the law and on the people involved. The legal process may be arcane at points, but the author makes sure to define all the terminology so that the helps push the story forward, and doesn’t get in the way.

I suspect that this book will be much more entertaining for those of us who are in favor of marriage equality. One of the outcomes of this particular fight, and many of the subsequent ones that followed after this case concluded, is that the side opposing marriage equality has a difficult time mustering logical and legal arguments that are not torn down by the weight of contrary scientific evidence. When the religious rhetoric and stereotype-based prejudice is stripped away, they have no case.

We all want a happy ending. This book delivers a beautiful one, even better because it’s true.
Profile Image for Chris.
490 reviews4 followers
September 22, 2018
I started strong in this book but kept falling away from it. An issue I had was the sheer number of players and time, so I kept getting lost--who was that/when is it? There are about 40-50 'main players' that you kind of have to know (or at least I did) and the time of the narrative (from about '08 to '14)...well, if there is another edition of this book and the editor happens to be reading, a timeline and 'who's who' would be extremely helpful. Also, this would make a wonderful limited series TV show. But you can tell Jo Becker is a great journalist and the writing brings the people (as much as the politics) to life.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
88 reviews
March 9, 2020
This touched on a lot of details of the trials that I missed the first time around. It also shows how precarious these decisions are. And how even now, so many people think that LGBTQIA+ folx are sexually deviant and immoral, and how our laws are based on “Christian” morality and not on human rights. But given the dark times we now live in, it feels heartwarming and almost healing to remember the good.
Profile Image for Denise.
6,591 reviews110 followers
May 7, 2021
From the 2008 elections to the 2013 Supreme Court rulings striking down DOMA and California's Prop 8, Becker's compelling account traces five years in the fight for marriage equality in the US. Detailed, engaging, and all the sweeter read in the knowledge that the year after the book was published, the Supreme Court (fuckin' finally) paved the way for making same-sex marriages legal across the country.
Profile Image for Matthew Royal.
239 reviews15 followers
November 21, 2018
An interesting inside peek into the litigants of Obergefell v. Hodges. Reinforces my worldview that the path to success is understanding the paths to success and modeling all the possible outcomes, obstacles, and agents on the way, and spending your time on the ones with the greatest chance of making a difference.
Profile Image for Amy Gabourel.
4 reviews
April 26, 2022
This book was an engaging retelling of events. I never thought that I’d enjoy a court drama till I read this one. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, even though I already knew how the cases turned out.
64 reviews
January 29, 2018
Very compelling read. I was afraid it would be very factual and deeply in the weeds but it was actually a page turner. While I knew the outcome in advance the back story was fasinating.
93 reviews6 followers
July 8, 2021
I still can't help but tear up reading of the moment when the court ruling came in and couples got married, even years later
Profile Image for Bill.
654 reviews
August 3, 2023
As another reviewer put it, this is a straightforward courtroom drama and not much more. Certainly not a view from "inside the fight for marriage equality" as the subtitle promises.
Profile Image for Aaron.
1,711 reviews46 followers
June 26, 2014
I thought this was a pretty strong book, though it might go into more detail about the topic than many people would want. Becker has provided a comprehensive narrative of the Proposition 8, the initiative in California that made same-sex marriage illegal after it had been approved by the legislature, case.

Vaughn Walker, who was the first judge in the case, was an interesting person. He is a gay man, who decided to recuse himself since it was not uncommon for people from a "protected class" of people to here a case that affected said people. While LGBTQ folks were not classified as a protected class at that time, it was one of the arguments in the case. I was incredibly interested in the fact that he, as judge, would often as his own questions of witnesses on both sides of the case. I had always assumed that judges were silent arbiters keeping order/fairness even in cases in which they are making rulings rather than overseeing juries. That was definitely not the case here.

The relationship between the two primary lawyers representing the plaintiffs was interesting, David Boise and Ted Olson were opponents in the Supreme Court case that resolved the shaky election of 2000 (Gore and Bush). They came together for this case because they both believed in the concepts relating to equality. Having the conservative Olson aboard was expected to help the plaintiffs' case, but it was interesting to see that he truly was doing it because he believed in it!

Anyone who really is interested in marriage equality should read this book.

One of the really cool things about the work is that it really puts a human face on everyone involved. This includes the plaintiffs, the lawyers, and the judges. It is not an easy issue to cover, and Becker does it in a way that shows that she is trying to be balanced in her coverage. She is very clearly pro-marriage equality, but she doesn't just paint the defendants as evil people. Everyone is painted in a way that tries to explain why they might have their beliefs.

I found reading about the plaintiffs and their testimony (as well as that of a number of other people) to be really touching and inspiring. Much of the book is dedicated to presenting scenes from behind-the-scenes meetings and a great deal of coverage of what happened during the trials themselves. It is truly an insider's look at the case.

I was impressed with the fact that Becker was allowed an extreme amount of access by both sides of the case as well as the judges after the fact. This is probably why it reads so smoothly as a narrative. It was cool to see how the case not only changed the way America as a whole looked at marriage equality, but also the lawyer and even some of the witnesses for the defense.

The book also gives a great deal of insight into how lawyers approach presenting a case to the Supreme Court. While they hope to win in the lower courts, they usually use those earlier trials to start presenting the case in a way that will try to appeal to the perspectives of each of the nine Supreme Court justices. They are laying out arguments deftly years before they will actually even go to the Supreme Court ... if they ever do!

I also was intrigued by
March 9, 2015
Forcing the Spring by Jo Becker follows a group of people who work together to challenge Proposition 8 and DOMA. The book follows the case all the way from the state courts up to the US Supreme Court. Becker got an up close look at just how much went into this case, especially one on a topic that has so much disapproval. The group wasn’t just concerned about the court case, but had to deal with the lash back from the community. This book is truly moving and it is amazing to see the progress of marriage equality throughout the five years

I really enjoyed how much Becker compared the fight for marriage equality to other past civil rights issues like the struggles women have fought for equality and racial discrimination. One of the major themes of this book is showing that we, the people, are the only way change is going to happen. This is shown by the success of the Civil Rights Movement with sit-ins and peaceful protesting. Becker brings up past court cases and connects them to the then current battle of Prop 8.

Becker has a large amount of detail that sometimes goes off topic and is irrelevant but the story is so intriguing it isn’t a hinder. There are also a lot people involved so it can get a little confusing on who’s who. But, Becker does do an amazing job at explaining the legal aspect of things that makes it easy for someone to understand the complex issues.

This book was well written and gave an amazing behind-the-scenes look on the fight for marriage equality. Becker did a great job capturing all the emotion and is able to pull the reader in and feel connected will all the people involved. It’s amazing to see the progress, at the beginning of the book only two states had legalized same-sex marriage and now the Obama administration fully supports nationwide same-sex marriage. This is a must read for anyone who is passionate about the fight for marriage equality. If you like this book, Winning Marriage by Marc Solomon is also a great book to read that isn’t just focused on Prop 8 and DOMA.
Profile Image for Merideen.
40 reviews
March 25, 2015
This book does have a few very serious flaws that should be addressed.
1) It assumes that the civil rights movement for the LGBTQ community started with the Prop 8 court case and the LGBTQ groups prior are portrayed as villains almost. Just not true, the LGBTQ has a long history in their civil rights movement and that history enabled the events of the Prop 8 case to happen. That history should have been better respected.
2) Too much Rob Reiner, ugg.
3) It continues the tradition of placing the LGBTQ community into a heteronormative mold, as if the only way we can accept Gays and Lesbians is if they're exactly like straight people. People in the LGBTQ community who don't fall into this mold are left out.

That being said, this book was an amazing court room drama about an important moment in our history. It was an exciting time to see changes in the collective views of America that moved us towards greater freedoms. This book captured that forward movement and it was an exciting book. Despite the serious issues, I was moved and excited by this book and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Rebecca Saxon.
487 reviews14 followers
July 14, 2014
This is an engaging and accessible story of the legal fight to strike down Proposition 8 in California and pave the way for marriage equality in the nation. Becker's access to the key players in the Prop 8 case (including the initial judge, Judge Walker) as well as insights from the opposing counsel creates a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of the case.

I was impressed at how clearly Becker explained legal complexities and provided us with key highlights from the courtrooms.

What becomes apparent in the book is the how siginficant bi-partisan support was to the process; in particiular it was key to have the prominent Republican lawyer Ted Olson leading the fight.

The book ultimately emcompasses the Supreme Court DOMA challenge, when it and Prop 8 converged, and provides insights as to why these challenges for same-sex marriage rights were successful when others have failed.

A great read for anyone looking for page-turning non-fiction (even when you know the outcome) and/or is interested in the fight for marriage equality.
May 31, 2014
Great book for anyone wanting to understand the motives of the LGBT community in its fight for marriage equality. The only reason why I didn't give it a full 5 stars is that it was clearly biased on the side of Chad Griffin and the pro-gay marriage alliance of people. As someone with an interest in American history, especially with respect to an event as important to me as a gay man as any other period of my lifetime, I would have preferred a more nuanced and neutral approach to all of the parties involved. There are some over the top descriptions of the "good guys" in Ms. Becker's story. Doesn't really feel like the imbedded journalism that I was hoping for.

Nevertheless, I did love the book and I credit it for making me feel wanting insofar as I do so little for gay rights in this country.
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