Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality

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Overview

*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 ...

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Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality

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Overview

*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 groundbreaking work of 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. Focusing on the historic legal challenge of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Becker offers a gripping, behind-the scenes narrative told with the lightning pace of a great legal thriller. Taking the reader from the Oval Office to the Supreme Court ruling, from state-by-state campaigns to an astounding shift in national public opinion, Forcing the Spring is political and legal journalism at its finest.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Linda Hirshman
…a stunningly intimate story…Becker's best scenes are not in the courtrooms, but in the S.U.V.'s, buses and limos that transported the players from one location to another.
Publishers Weekly
★ 03/10/2014
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. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM. (Apr.)
Library Journal
11/15/2013
With California's 2008 passage of Proposition 8, which barred gay couples from marrying, activists brought a legal case all the way to the Supreme Court. Becker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at the New York Times exclusively embedded with the plaintiff's legal team, offers an insider's view of the battle.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-03-19
A New York Times reporter delivers a gripping narrative about the recent court battles involving California's Proposition 8 (which outlawed gay marriage) and the Defense of Marriage Act. In her note at the end, Becker writes that she enjoyed virtually unfettered access to the unlikely legal team that joined the opponents of Bush v. Gore (2000), conservative Ted Olson and liberal David Boies, in their battle against Prop 8 in the federal court system. But Olson and Boies aren't the only notables. Becker also focuses on strategist Chad Griffin, on Hollywood's contributions (especially the unrelenting efforts of Rob Reiner), Chuck Cooper (the lawyer for the opposition—he did not give the same access, but he was generous with post-trial interviews) and, of course, the four plaintiffs in the suit. (A California marriage in the final chapter is a genuine tear-jerker.) Although the author pauses occasionally to supply some background and/or history—the Dred Scott case, Brown v. Board of Education—her momentum is resolutely forward, her writing so brisk and urgent that even though we know the outcome, the tension in the courtroom scenes and the intervals of waiting for decisions remain taut, even nerve-wracking. Becker's access gives us insights into other aspects of the story, as well—the deliberations within the Obama administration, the pro–gay marriage statements of Vice President Biden that seemed to animate the president, and the thinking in the Justice Department. She gives a gripping account of the trial in the U.S. District Court (with some fine analysis of the role of Judge Vaughn Walker, gay himself), some of which she reproduces directly from court records. Becker follows the case from there to the U.S. Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court, where we listen to the oral arguments and follow the sometimes-twisted thinking of the justices. First-rate reporting informs this thrilling narrative of hope.
From the Publisher
Praise for Jo Becker's Forcing the Spring

The New York Times Book Review
A stunningly intimate story… Maybe because she’s such a  versatile reporter, Becker saw the big picture. The fight for marriage equality did not end in a total victory on the Supreme Court steps but triumphed in a higher court, the court of public opinion. It may not be the story she set out to tell, but it’s a great one nonetheless.”

Entertainment Weekly
"A stunning account of the legal battles stemming from Prop 8... Drawing on five years of unlimited access to Olson and Boies' team, [Becker] has crafted an engrossing narrative filled with details gleaned from fraught backroom conversations and private emails. Though some critics allege that Becker highlights certain key figures at the expense of others, the history she re-creates using material as dry as court records and judges' written opinions is as taut and suspenseful as a novel. She also zeroes in on human moments. Forcing the Spring stands as not just the definitive account of the battle for same-sex marriage rights but a thrilling and compassionate one, too. Grade: A"

The Washington Post
Forcing the Spring is 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.

Richard Socarides, The New Yorker
“Becker’s account of the hearings, and her analysis of the complicated legal theories involved in the long appeals process, are excellent. Her writing about the four plaintiffs in the case—the true emotional heroes of this book—is particularly affecting... If you are interested in the story of how a Hollywood political consultant and a conservative lawyer joined forces in 2009, in the belief that they could really make a difference, and, no doubt, gain some notoriety for themselves and their cause, helping to dramatically change the way Americans thought of gay people and the way gay people thought of themselves—this book is for you. The real story it tells is how seemingly small moments, occurring by happenstance, when combined with boldness and imagination, can help to change the course of history.”

Jonathan Capehart, The Washington Post
“A riveting account of how California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage there, went from voter passage in 2008 to Supreme Court invalidation in 2013. The incredible access the New York Times investigative reporter had with the principals involved and others will satisfy that political-junky thirst for the backstory swirling around historical events… Becker gives readers an insider’s view of what they watched in real time over four and a half years. Her interviews and observations are presented in a riveting fashion that reminded me of Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters, the first of three books on Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement.”

Elizabeth Birch, The Bilerico Project:
“Becker takes the reader on an extraordinary journey inside a single piece of test case litigation, a riveting tale with a full cast of colorful characters, the very best of which are the four authentic and down-to-earth plaintiffs...Rarely has an episode of one piece of LGBT work been captured in such sharp relief and detail. The story unfolds like a journal, revealing an unlikely cast of characters that literally orchestrate the death of a very painful episode of California's history...No one should miss reading this book!”

Kirkus (STARRED review)
“[A] gripping narrative... [Becker’s] momentum is resolutely forward, her writing so brisk and urgent that even though we know the outcome, the tension in the courtroom scenes and the intervals of waiting for decisions remains taut, even nerve-wracking. Becker’s access gives us insights into other aspects of the story, as well—the deliberations within the Obama administration, the pro–gay marriage statements of Vice President Biden that seemed to animate the president, and the thinking in the Justice Department. She gives a gripping account of the trial in the U.S. District Court (with some fine analysis of the role of Judge Vaughn Walker, gay himself), some of which she reproduces directly from court records. Becker follows the case from there to the U.S. Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court, where we listen to the oral arguments and follow the sometimes-twisted thinking of the justices. First-rate reporting informs this thrilling narrative of hope.”

Publishers Weekly (STARRED review)
"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."

Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine and The Oath
“Jo Becker’s Forcing the Spring is a superb behind-the-scenes account of the legal battle to bring marriage equality to the nation. Drawing on extraordinary access to the internal deliberations of the plaintiffs’ team, Becker shows how law, politics, and personality combined to create a landmark in the history of the Supreme Court—and of the United States.”

Benjamin Todd Jealous, former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
“Jo Becker’s Forcing the Spring provides the definitive insider account of one of the great civil rights struggles of our times. It is an important and moving historical account that reads like a page-turning legal thriller. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to move our nation forward.”

David Von Drehle, author of Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year and Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
“The movement for marriage equality has been an extraordinary example of historic change at hyper speed. Jo Becker, a gifted journalist, had unparalleled access to the legal drama as well as the human stories of love and courage, and she weaves her witness into a fast-paced narrative of lasting importance.”

David Finkel, author of Thank You for Your Service and The Good Soldiers
“Jo Becker is one of America’s very best journalists, and this book showcases her at her finest. Meticulously reported and passionately written, Forcing the Spring not only illuminates the fight in America for marriage equality, it’s also a thrilling and exhilarating page-turner.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594204449
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/22/2014
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 573,477
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

JO BECKER is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter for The New York Times, where she has broken stories on everything from the United States’ lethal program to kill suspected terrorists to the British phone-hacking affair and the Penn State child sexual abuse scandal. She has taught investigative journalism as a visiting professor at Princeton University, and her work has earned her numerous awards. A Washington Post series she coauthored on Vice President Dick Cheney won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.

@Jo_Becker

www.JoBecker.net

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Read an Excerpt

Standing before the audience of donors in Nevada, Dustin Lance Black—winner of the Academy Award for best original screenplay for Milk—knew before uttering a word that he was in for trouble. Hours earlier, he had been confronted in the hotel’s courtyard by Evan Wolfson, the fifty-two-year-old founder of a group called Freedom to Marry and the primary author of the cautious state-by-state marriage strategy that the gay rights movement had been pursuing.

Wolfson had berated the younger man, explaining as though to a willful but ignorant child his ongoing, twenty-five-year plan to build support for marriage equality nationwide. Twenty-five years? Black had practically gasped. But he had said little; it was intimidating, to say the least, to be dressed down by a pioneer of the marriage equality movement.

Wolfson had devoted his life to the cause, writing his third-year thesis at Harvard Law School in 1983 on the right of gays and lesbians to marry, an idea considered so radical at the time that he had trouble finding an academic adviser. He had served as co-counsel in the first state court case challenging a same-sex marriage ban, filing a lawsuit in the early 1990s in Hawaii. He had won the case but lost the battle when voters there enacted a Prop 8-like constitutional amendment. His book on the subject had been called “perhaps the most important gay-marriage primer ever written.”

Following the encounter, a shaken Black had called Chad Griffin in his room for reassurance.

There was, both felt, a generation gap at work. Younger activists like Chad and Black had grown up in a relatively safer world, where gays and lesbians were not forced to congregate in bars with no windows for fear of being raided and attacked, where courts did not routinely strip custody from gay parents in divorce proceedings, and where they saw themselves reflected positively in television shows like Will & Grace. It was easier for them to envision success now.

“This just means we are doing the right thing,” Chad had said.

Still, it was with some trepidation that Black launched into his speech. Following the passage of Proposition 8, he told the crowd, he was shocked when a leader of one of the largest gay rights organizations in the country offered this advice: “He said, ‘If we just quiet down, they’—whoever they are—‘will let us do whatever we want.’

“Those are the words of one of the leaders of our current organizations, and as a student of Harvey Milk, I will tell you they are not just the same ‘kind’ of people who told Milk it was too soon for a gay elected official back in 1977— some of them are the very same people.”

The movement was at a critical juncture, he continued, and “as Martin Luther King said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, ‘This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.’”

Full equality, he said, could only happen at the federal level.

“The strategy of the past decade has failed,” he declared, a direct rebuke to many in the audience. “We have lost state and local fights time and again.

“It has been thirty years since Harvey Milk gave his life in our struggle for equality, and we will not wait thirty years more. It is time for us to stop asking for crumbs and demand the real thing.”

If there was applause, Black didn’t remember any. Instead, he recalled an ocean of pursed lips and crossed arms, and that he was literally trembling as he walked off the stage. Wolfson was silently seething. The idea that this newcomer thought his strategy timid and incremental infuriated him; no one wanted full federal equality more than him, but national change required more than wishful thinking.

“Harvey Milk didn’t start by running for president,” he later grumbled. “He ran for city supervisor, and he ran and lost twice before he won.”

Tim Gill, whose foundation was the largest funder of gay rights causes in the country, denounced Black outright, telling the crowd he was naïve and misguided. Chad, who was standing in the wings with Bruce Cohen, was shocked at the level of open hostility. After all, Black hadn’t even specifically mentioned marriage or a federal lawsuit.

“Chad was saying, ‘Oh my God, we are going to be loathed and hated. How are we going to sell this?’ ” Black recalled.

And things were about to get worse.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 25, 2014

    A great read about historical and inspiring events. A must read.

    A great read about historical and inspiring events. A must read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2014

    Jo Becker's work is an excellent roadmap for non-lawyers, law st

    Jo Becker's work is an excellent roadmap for non-lawyers, law students, and lawyers, to witness the manner in which big issues of law work their way through the legal system. People like to complain about activiist judges, but these same people rarely condemn legislatures that draft laws to be later interpreted by unelected regulators, or by the judicial branch. When an initiative drafted by the people appears, it is often the case that the meaning of certain words and phrases, or the purpose behind the legislation is lost. When illegal foreseen consequences, or regrettable unforeseen consequences occur, it is often only the judicial system that provides the forum to correct these errors particularly if, in a country like the United States, we believe that the rights of minorities must be protected just as much as the rights and power of the majority. Ms. Becker, with unusual access to the plaintiff's case in the fight against initiated bans on same sex marriage, and wonderful follow up interviews with the defendants attorneys, provides an insight rarely given, and almost never given in such a short period of time after the major event has occurred. The side stories of finding plaintiffs, seeing the partnership of two apparent enemies in Ted Olson and David Boies, and the problems faced when multiple groups have concerns about the same issue, but different approaches to addressing those concerns, create a seemingly insurmountable conflict. Having taught as an adjunct in law school, I saw this book, and Gideon's Trumpet, and Oxford's Brown vs. Board of Education as fine reading for a course on Supreme Court jurisprudence. But, with so many friends who are not lawyers, I found this book a wonderful introduction into the various issues, tactics, and approaches, that must be taken to make sure that an appropriate record is made to have a case further reviewed. Ms. Becker also points out how judges do not live on Olympus, or in a vacuum, and must be aware of what happens in society even though that really cannot control how they rule. So many times I have heard people proclaim, "how could the Court have done that," whether they favor an outcome or not. Ms. Becker's book finely answers that question; and, in the process, introduces the reader to a wonderful story about real people with real problems. For every Marbury v. Madison, we have to remember that somewhere there is a Marbury, and there is a Madison, and they both deserve to be heard. I would make this book mandatory reading for any constitutional law course in college or law school. It provides framework, insight, and an outline for why lawyers enter this profession in the first place.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2014

    marriage death birth and inheritence in usa is

    CIVIL NOT CHURCH TO BE LEGAL what is legal may or may not conform to a religion or its various sects. In other words it requires permission from the state in form of registration and fees license etc. The state defines what is a legal family regarding custody of children. It is possible to arrange a civil partnership without religous approval However this can lead to other religions to seek civil approval of multi marriages like Mormons or the three wives of Moselms or Tibetian multi husbands or even official concubines all under the guise of religious freedom equal rights to social security benefits and five wive deduction on incone tax. Course if you are paying allimony and child support to a multitude of exs

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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