That’s what the super-rich super-lawyer – who, unlike all the countless previous lawyers in the marriage equality movement, did not work pro bono – tells the world in his new book. Nathaniel Frank reviews it:
Olson and Boies seem to think they were the first to cast same-sex marriage as a conservative issue and to conduct bipartisan outreach, an idea that rightly made Andrew Sullivan apoplectic, given his pioneering 1989 New Republic cover story, “Here Comes the Groom: A (Conservative) Case for Gay Marriage.” Olson and Boies write that 20 years later, with their 2009 case, “we wanted to begin connecting with a constituency that hadn’t fully considered our side of the issue.” Yes, conservatives have a deplorable history on gay marriage and gay rights generally, but not because no one asked them to think differently until 2009.
One of the more unusual aspects of the marriage equality movement was the vital early and continuing role of gay conservatives in championing it. We were lampooned by the left for quite a while – even earning the term homocons in the 1990s. And when you read Olson’s arguments, you find that they contain nothing that I and Bruce Bawer, Jon Rauch, Dale Carpenter, John Corvino and many others hadn’t already pioneered as arguments and brought to conservative audiences and venues. In fact, large parts of Olson’s legal case are pretty damn close to plagiarism when you consider the content of the arguments.
Of course, we never caviled at this. The arguments we honed in the 1990s were designed to be used by others, to spread as memes. And there is nothing more rewarding in a civil rights movement than hearing others make arguments and even rhetoric that you helped pioneer. We were delighted to have Olson on our side. But when a straight man barges into the movement at the very last minute and actually claims he came up with these arguments all by himself and that there had been no conservative outreach before him, you can see why it smarts a little.
And, alas, the book echoes the themes of Becker’s: the marriage equality movement was born in 2009. It barely existed before then. It only had a political rather than a litigation strategy. It took two straight guys to whip it into shape and a straight woman to explain how they did it … and then the world changed overnight. None of this is true; and no one with any understanding of the movement would even think it, let alone put it in a book. But this Big Lie is central to Olson and Boies’ book. Money quote from Frank:
“Our effort,” they write, “and the efforts of the scores of people who helped and supported us have contributed, we hope, to the beginning of the end of this last major bastion of institutionalized discrimination in America.” They’re not talking about ending the marriage ban in California, but about ending marriage discrimination itself. Even when they credit others besides themselves with playing a role, it’s “the people who helped and supported us,” leaving little room for anyone outside their Prop 8 challenge.
More to the point, it’s absurd to suggest that the 2009 Prop 8 challenge was the “beginning” of anything related to the marriage equality effort. And this creation myth is not just a passing reference for the Olson/Boies team, which repeatedly suggests that they and their effort birthed the marriage equality battle in earnest. They recount a young gay lawyer on their legal team who, as he accompanied the plaintiffs to have their marriage application rejected, thought: “This is the first step toward marriage equality. It happened today. Right now.”
The proper response to this self-serving disinformation is outrage. But I can’t feel that any more. I’m just glad that victory has many authors. And sad that some are so graceless and pernicious and money-grubbing and vain.