Author and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Jo Becker appeared this evening at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. to read excerpts from and sign copies of her new book, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality.
The book has become a lightning rod for controversy across the LGBT movement, with commentators including Dan Savage, Nathaniel Frank, Michelangelo Signorile, Chris Geidner, and Andrew Sullivan criticizing Becker for, among other things, the book's claim that the marriage equality revolution began in 2008 when political consultant Chad Griffin decided to mount a legal challenge to California's discriminatory Proposition 8.
During the Q&A session that followed the reading this evening, I asked Becker to respond to this critique, and also to the grassroots activists -- particularly those who fought so hard against marriage discrimination amendments during the brutal 2004 and 2006 elections -- who might feel erased by her contention that the equal marriage movement was at that time "languish[ing] in obscurity."
Becker cited marriage equality pioneer Mary Bonauto in her response:
"Mary Bonauto, who's largely seen as the mother of this movement -- and for those of you who don't know, Mary brought the case in Massachusetts... actually, when she brought that case, she was opposed by members of the LGBT legal community. They thought that case was too fast and too soon, and she was blamed for helping re-elect George Bush.
"But Mary talked about this. She said... none of the [previous] cases, [they] just didn't garner the same amount of attention [as the Prop 8 case]. This became headline news in a way that it hadn't been, and in part because of the kind of oddball, odd-couple pairing of these two straight guys who... came from opposite sides of the aisle, fought Bush v. Gore together.
"And Mary told me [that] her cases couldn't get that kind of attention. [S]he talked about that, she said, 'they turned that trial into a truth commission.' And I think that that's undeniable. I just think that it certainly elevated the attention that was brought to bear on this issue, and then the attendant... public relations campaign that went with it, which started with AFER -- which was the group that brought this case -- but then morphed into a much bigger operation.
"And if you'll read about [it] in the book, it's presidential level. I mean... Hilary Rosen was involved in the strategy. You had the woman who was Michelle Obama's campaign press person was involved in this operation. So they relentlessly used this litigation as a vehicle for public education, and I think it's pretty undeniable that that had a big impact."
Responding to a similar question from Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson, Becker said that much of the criticism she's received "is about a book I didn't write." She said that her book is narrowly focused on the Proposition 8 case, which is why people who are important in the marriage equality movement but weren't a part of that particular case don't figure prominently in it. The extent to which they're in the book, Becker said, is often the extent to which they opposed the Prop 8 legal team's strategy.
"I think some leaders in the gay community are divided about this book in the same way they were divided about this case."
In other Jo Becker-related news, it was revealed today that she received a $150,000 grant last year from the Ford Foundation "to research and write a book on the marriage equality movement in the United States."