When your premise is that the marriage equality revolution began in 2008, that the movement was only then re-branded around the themes of family values and toleration, that the subject had been languishing in obscurity before the gay “Rosa Parks” came on the scene, there are a few things that will necessarily not compute.
Look first of all at the polling on the question. No one can doubt that the actions of a handful of people in the highest regions of the Obama administration would never have happened without this long-sustained, widening and deepening support in the polls. Public persuasion and advocacy were absolutely indispensable to bringing the new majority about, and making cautious politicians capable of changing. So check out Gallup’s polling on the question over the last couple of decades:
In 1996, support was at 27 percent. By 2007, it was at 46 percent. It has since peaked at 53 percent in 2011 and 54 percent now. What Becker is arguing is that increasing the support by 8 percent after that early momentum was the only period that matters. The increase of 15 percent before that – in a far less propitious environment – was irrelevant, and in fact, proof that until the key figure of Chad Griffin arrived, nothing was really happening. I’d love to know how Becker can make that argument with a straight face. Or whether on her book tour, she will be confronted with the sheer perversity of that judgment. I also think it’s incumbent on Griffin to say whether that is his view of the matter as well. It sure sounds like it from Becker’s book.
Then there are the following bizarre consequences of her insane history. Among the heroes of her book are Joe Biden and Ken Mehlman. Now just think about that for a moment. Biden voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 – by far the most damaging moment in the movement’s history. As Isaac Chotiner notes, the book’s fellatial account of Biden’s own pro-gay goodness rests on stories of his past that reveal that he had no issues with gay couples – even as he voted to rid them of any rights by voting for DOMA! This grotesque hypocrisy is glossed over in favor of letting Becker’s source spin his own past uncritically. Ditto with Obama. He was obviously bullshitting on this subject for years. Chotiner:
As was the case with Biden, Obama wants credit for holding a position he knows is wrong. That position also shows a certain contempt for voters, as if they couldn’t figure out that Obama is being dishonest and, of course, supports gay marriage.
As for Mehlman, WTF? He ran the Bush 2004 campaign that used the marriage equality movement to turn out the Republican Christianist base and ensure Bush’s re-election. Without that issue, Bush may well not have won Ohio, and John Kerry would have been president. Now, I was delighted at Mehlman’s metamorphosis and have long believed that we should welcome all converts and hunt no heretics in this cause. I gave him a platform on the Dish I was so happy with his reversal.
But when he is credited as a critical hero of the movement and Evan Wolfson is damned as an obstructionist, you are seriously in an alternative universe. When he is the star, and the large universe of Republicans, conservatives and libertarians who backed marriage equality long, long before Mehlman’s Damascene moment are airbrushed out of history, you can see why this toxic distortion of history is so troubling. The idea that recommending a female interviewer for Obama’s revelation is more important than the decades of legal, educational and political organizing that took place in the teeth of Mehlman’s own brutal attack on gay couples … well, it beggars belief.
Geidner notes another way in which Olson and Boies and Griffin conducted themselves differently than other parts of the movement. They got paid to the tune of $6 million, while previous legal support for marriage equality was almost always done pro bono:
The $6.4 million price tag runs in contrast to many other legal fights mounted by the LGBT community. Much of such “impact litigation” is brought by nonprofit legal groups like Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which brought the case that one of its lawyers, Mary Bonauto, argued and led to marriage equality in Massachusetts. Other such litigation is brought by nonprofit groups working with outside private lawyers working without payment for their services — called pro bono — like Lambda Legal and Jenner & Block’s Paul Smith, who argued the 2003 case, Lawrence v. Texas, that ruled sodomy laws across the country unconstitutional.
As for the extraordinary fundraising required, it took one lunch with David Geffen and one phone call to Steven Bing to raise half of it in a few days – support that Griffin has long downplayed in his presentation of the case.
To be honest, writing these posts makes me a little sick. For decades, this kind of nasty internal spat was avoided, because all of us in this fight believed that the cause was far more important than our own divisions and egos. Evan and I – who labored together pretty much alone for years – had serious political and ideological differences. He is a full-bore liberal; and I am a small-c conservative. On the road, we’d hash stuff out on trains and green rooms – and we had a deep disagreement over strategy, with my preferring a gradualist, federalist and political approach, while he backed a strategic, national, legal campaign. But we never aired this in public; we both thought the issue was much bigger than either of us. It turned out we were both half-right, and I’m proud of our discipline. To have made so much progress with so little acrimony only to have such unity side-swiped by such an egregious, ugly and unprecedented attempt to claim total credit is terribly demoralizing. We owe Olson and Boies and Griffin gratitude for continuing the fight. If only they would at some point return the compliment – instead of using a credulous, ignorant reporter to describe this movement as theirs and theirs alone.