Review: Then Comes Marriage by Roberta Kaplan

Review: Then Comes Marriage by Roberta KaplanThen Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA by Roberta Kaplan, Lisa Dickey, Edie Windsor
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: history, legal history, nonfiction
Pages: 336
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on October 5th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Roberta Kaplan’s gripping story of her defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) before the Supreme Court.
Renowned litigator Roberta Kaplan knew from the beginning that it was the perfect case to bring down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer had been together as a couple, in sickness and in health, for more than forty years—enduring society’s homophobia as well as Spyer’s near total paralysis from multiple sclerosis. Although the couple was finally able to marry, when Spyer died the federal government refused to recognize their marriage, forcing Windsor to pay a huge estate tax bill.
In this gripping, definitive account of one of our nation’s most significant civil rights victories, Kaplan describes meeting Windsor and their journey together to defeat DOMA. She shares the behind-the-scenes highs and lows, the excitement and the worries, and provides intriguing insights into her historic argument before the Supreme Court. A critical and previously untold part of the narrative is Kaplan’s own personal story, including her struggle for self-acceptance in order to create a loving family of her own.
Then Comes Marriage tells this quintessentially American story with honesty, humor, and heart. It is the momentous yet intimate account of a thrilling victory for equality under the law for all Americans, gay or straight.

My Review:

This book, like yesterday’s review book, Grant Park, is about a day when the universe changed.

That book centered around the election of Barack Obama. This one concerns events that took place after Obama was elected, events that probably would have taken a lot longer under a different administration.

On March 27, 2013, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning the case of United States V. Windsor, the case that struck down DOMA, the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, as unconstitutional. Windsor became the precedent that enabled courts across the U.S. to strike down state statutes that attempted to restrict marriage. This past summer, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, marriage equality became the law of the land.

forcing the spring by jo beckerThen Comes Marriage is the third book that I have read about this case and its aftermath. Last year’s Forcing the Spring (reviewed here) is an account of the other marriage equality case that came before the Supreme Court in 2013, the case against California’s Prop 8. In some ways, Then Comes Marriage feels like the other side of that story, as the reporter who wrote Forcing the Spring was embedded in the other legal team. And though she interviewed the principals in Windsor after the fact, her coverage of the Windsor case is naturally not as complete as it is for the case that she was personally involved with.

Speak Now by Kenji Yoshino (reviewed earlier this year) also covers the Prop. 8 case, but from the perspective of a married gay lawyer who was not professionally involved in the case but would be impacted by the result.

I found it interesting that both the Yoshino book and this one take their titles from ages old references to marriage and being married. The other title is a play on the part of the marriage ceremony where the officiant addresses the audience regarding whether anyone can show just cause to stop the impending marriage with the phrase “speak now or forever hold your peace”.

Then Comes Marriage is part of a childhood taunting rhyme, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes someone with a baby carriage.” Because after the recent rulings that someone could be a man and woman, two women, or two men. Love is love and marriage is finally marriage.

But this book, as written by the lawyer who argued the Windsor case, starts at the very beginning. And in this beginning are Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, two women who pledged their love to each other in 1967, at a time before the Stonewall Riots when they secretly hoped but never expected that the marriage that Thea proposed to Edie could ever be celebrated in the U.S. Although they were not able to marry in the U.S., Edie and a terminally ill Thea flew to Toronto in 2007 to get married.

The U.S. recognizes marriages conducted in Canada, but DOMA prevented the U.S. from recognizing Edie’s marriage to Thea. So when Thea died in 2009, the Federal government and New York State presented her with a whopping $600,000 bill for inheritance taxes. Taxes that Edie would not have had to pay if Thea had been Theo or Edie had been Eddie. But not, at that time, both.

Edie chose to fight. This was her case. But she won for everyone.

Reality Rating A-: It’s pretty clear to anyone who has read my reviews of Speak Now and Forcing the Spring that I am for marriage equality. So I was predisposed to like this book from the outset.

As a narrative of the case, it reads differently from Forcing the Spring. That was a legal thriller to rival anything by Grisham. It’s also different because the stars in the Prop 8 case were the two lawyers who argued the case.

In Then Comes Marriage, Edie Windsor is the center of the story. Unlike a lot of civil rights legislation, no one went shopping for a perfect set of plaintiffs to represent the spectrum of the case. Edie had a very specific grievance, and she wanted things to be set right. While the money was important, the real issue was that the government said her marriage did not exist, that her 40+ years of living with, loving, and supporting Thea did not count, that they were legally strangers to each other.

When the story of Edie’s life with Thea is portrayed, it is crystal clear to the reader just how wrong that was. Also the legal case was very clear and relatively simple. The marriage was legally conducted in Canada. The U.S. recognizes Canadian marriages as valid. What was the rational basis for treating Edie and Thea’s marriage differently? And the court came to the conclusion that there wasn’t one.

While the story of Edie’s life felt relevant, the book begins with a section on the lawyer’s life, and how and why she ended up arguing this case. While it seemed fitting that the author’s motives, thoughts and feelings were interjected into the story of the progress of the case at frequent intervals, I wasn’t sure that she was the place to start. The back-to-back biographical sections made the beginning of the book drag just a bit.

But once the case starts proceeding through the courts, the narrative tension mounts at a gripping pace. Even though we know how the story ends, the process of getting there still had me opening the book in unlikely places, just to see how things were going. I felt like the protagonists did while waiting to read the rulings, peeking at any interval just to get in a few more words.

The author’s description of the aftermath of the case reads like a victory lap. And so it should. Edie Windsor, and the author, made the universe change.

Review: Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial by Kenji Yoshino

speak now by kenji yoshinoFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: nonfiction, legal history
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Crown
Date Released: April 14, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A renowned legal scholar tells the definitive story of the trial that will stand as the most potent argument for marriage equality.

In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 8, rescinding the right of same-sex couples to marry in the state. Advocates for marriage equality were outraged. Still, major gay-rights groups opposed a federal challenge to the law, warning that it would be dangerously premature. A loss could set the movement back for decades. A small group of activists, however, refused to wait. They turned to corporate lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies—best known for arguing opposite sides of Bush v. Gore—who filed a groundbreaking federal suit against the law.

A distinguished constitutional law scholar, Kenji Yoshino was also a newly married gay man who at first felt ambivalent about the suit. Nonetheless, he recognized that Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to hold a trial in the case was momentous. Boies and Olson rose to the occasion, deftly deploying arguments that LGBT advocates had honed through years of litigation and debate. Reading the 3,000-page transcript, Yoshino discovered a shining civil rights document—the most rigorous and compelling exploration he had seen of the nature of marriage, the political status of gays and lesbians, the ideal circumstances for raising children, and the inability of direct democracy to protect fundamental rights. After that tense twelve-day trial, Walker issued a resounding and historic ruling: California’s exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court denied the final appeal in Hollingsworth v. Perry, leaving same-sex couples in California free to marry.

Drawing on interviews with lawyers and witnesses on both sides of the case, Yoshino takes us deep inside the trial. He brings the legal arguments to life, not only through his account of the case, but also by sharing his own story of finding love, marrying, and having children. Vivid, compassionate, and beautifully written, Speak Now is both a nuanced and authoritative account of a landmark trial, and a testament to how the clash of proofs in our judicial process can force debates to the ultimate level of clarity.

My Review:

The title of this book is taken from the familiar traditional marriage ceremony. You know exactly where, too. It’s that famous, or infamous, point in the ceremony where the officiant asks whether anyone in attendance, “has reasons why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

In fiction, it’s a dramatic moment, in real life, almost a joke. But in the case of marriage equality, there are all too many forces arrayed that would jump up and say that they have reasons why two men or two women should not be able to marry each other, and have spoken at length and sometimes with great emotion. And at other times with extreme malice. Or to use the legal term, animus.

forcing the spring by jo beckerSpeak Now covers the same ground as last year’s Forcing the Spring (reviewed here), but through a much different lens.

Forcing the Spring was written by an embedded journalist in the fight to overturn California’s Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that made same sex marriage illegal in California, after a landmark court decision that found such bans to be unconstitutional, and after many thousands of marriages had been performed while the legal window was opened.

The case against Prop 8 intended to push that window open again, and keep it open, by going all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Which, of course, it was.

Where Forcing the Spring reads like a legal thriller, Speak Now is written from the point of view of someone who is both a legal expert and is personally affected by the outcome of the case. So there are both more personal reflections included in this narrative, and more legal analysis.

Don’t let the thought of that legal analysis put any reader off – it is thorough, well-done, and especially accessible to the lay reader. At the same time, the author makes it very clear just how different the conduct of this case turned out to be. The author, as a lawyer himself, shows both his fascination with the process in general, and his enjoyment of the trial process in this case. We are able to see through his eyes both how unusual it was, and how much the trial process itself affect the outcome.

The trial process forced everyone on both sides to subject their contentions to rigorous investigation by opposing counsel. In a trial, you can’t just say something is true, you have to prove it. And the separation of church and state is still considered important. So that religious grounds for banning same-sex marriage do not hold up. The “why” of a thing has to be something that the state (meaning the government) has a reasonable interest in. And the government cannot have a reasonable interest, or any interest, in religion.

As a look into how the legal process can work to protect the rights of a minority against oppression by the majority, this is a beautiful case of our legal process at work.

Even those who disagree with the outcome will find the process of the case itself fascinating.

Reality Rating A: In light of the Supreme Court oral hearings last week on the subject of marriage equality in the U.S. Sixth Circuit (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee) in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, this seemed like a good time to look at this topic again. Speak Now turned out to be a terrific choice, one that covers what is now a familiar case from a different perspective than the more popularized version in Forcing the Spring.

As a lawyer himself, the author dives more deeply into the legal process of the case, and shows clearly how well the trial process worked in this case, and why. He also makes it plain that he likes and enjoys the trial process in general, and his opinion that the requirements for proof of any assertions in a trial is one of the cornerstones of our justice system. And he makes this one particularly fascinating.

The author personalizes the story by letting readers see its effects on him, his family and his life, and how the personal stories of the plaintiffs in the case both moved him and resonated with him, his husband and their two children. The landscape of marriage equality has changed a great deal in a relatively short period of time. Both the author’s family and this case are emblematic of that change.

By the end of June, we will all know how the current case has been decided. As we wait, reading this book provides insight into how we reached this point as a nation.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-3-15

Sunday Post

There’s nothing more embarrassing for a book blogger than to discover that she forgot to download one of her upcoming books that’s upcoming really, really soon. On the other hand, that may be what Amazon is for.

There are all sorts of reading emergencies, after all.

 

Current Giveaways:

1 $50 Amazon Gift Card and 2 $15 Amazon Gift Cards from Suzanne Johnson
$25 Gift Card from Brooke Johnson

black water rising by attica lockeBlog Recap:

B Review: Chaos Broken by Rebekah Turner
A- Review: Diamond Head by Cecily Wong
A Review: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
B Review: The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson
Guest Post by Author Brooke Johnson: More Steampunk + Giveaway
A- Review: Pirate’s Alley by Suzanne Johnson
Guest Post by Suzanne Johnson on Pirate Love + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (133)

 


spring fling giveaway hopComing Next Week:

Spring Fling Giveaway Hop
Speak Now by Kenji Yoshino (review)
Pleasantville by Attica Locke (blog tour review)
The Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw (blog tour review)
Dead Wake by Erik Larson (review)
The Deepest Poison by Beth Cato (review)

Review: Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality by Jo Becker

forcing the spring by jo beckerFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Politics, History
Length: 480 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Date Released: April 22, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

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.

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 the 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 stiff 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. Based on singular access to the internal workings of this momentous trial—and enlivened by original interviews with the participants on both sides of the case, many speaking for the first time—Forcing the Spring is at once an emotion-packed tale of love and determination as well as an eye-opening examination of an evidentiary record that federal courts across the nation are now relying on to strike down bans similar to California’s.

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, his surprising role in the Supreme Court battle, and the unexpected way the controversial issue played in the 2012 elections.

What starts out as a tale of an epic legal battle grows into the story of the evolution of a country, a testament and old-fashioned storytelling to move public opinion. 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, as public opinion on same-sex marriage flipped and elected officials repositioned themselves to adjust to a dramatically changed environment. Forcing the Spring 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.

My Review:

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.

queer romance month

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.