Title ~ Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love
Author ~ Matthew Baume
Published ~ 8th July 2015
Genre ~ LGBT, Non Fiction
Only a few years ago, marriage was defined as an exclusive club for heterosexuals only. Today, it has expanded to welcome gay and lesbian couples across the entire United States.
Defining Marriage traces the decades-long evolution of marriage through the personal stories of those who lived through it. Writer Matt Baume provides an intimate glimpse into the private lives of those who dreamed of marriage in the 1970s, the survivors of the 1980s, the audacious pioneers of the 1990s, the tireless soldiers of the 2000s, and the champions who won marriage today.
Along the way, he explores the individual stories of the people who participated in this revolution, examines what marriage has become, and shows with vivid, compelling personal narratives how the act of defining marriage forever changed the lives and loves of the people who fought to define the institution. As the journey to equality unfolds over the years, Baume finds himself unexpectedly evaluating his own self-contradictory life as a marriage activist with no plans to marry his longtime partner.
Over the course of years, the story of marriage is recounted through intimate, revealing conversations with prominent LGBT figures, allies, and grassroots activists. Dustin Lance Black shares the story of how his escape from childhood abuse prepared him to bring hope to millions; Dan Savage recalls his stubborn rejection of the closet at what was then an unthinkably young age; and Andrew Sullivan remembers the call for marriage in the 1980s that earned him enemies amongst conservatives and queers alike. Baume visits with Rob Reiner, who inherited a passion for social justice from his real-life parents and his television family; San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose personal principles tested his career ambitions when he stood up to an unjust law and the President of the United States; and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a former seminary student who picked up the mantle of LGBT liberation after the death of a friend and mentor.
We meet accidental activists thrust into an international spotlight, like Amy Balliett of Join the Impact; Book of Mormon star Gavin Creel; and Clela Rorex, who in 1975 became America's first government official to issue a marriage license to gay couples. As marriage transforms, people all over the country find themselves and their loved ones at a crossroads of history: Molly McKay, who showed up at marriage counters to demanded a license every Valentine's Day for a decade until someone finally said yes; Jenny Kanelos, a small-town girl who mobilized all of Broadway; Juan and Tim Clark-Lucero, forced to race against the clock to marry before their legal window closed.
Baume provides rare, behind-the-scenes access to personal conflicts around the national struggle. While furious protestors clash on the steps of the Supreme Court, we are ushered inside to witness the same debate playing out amongst the Justices. Readers witness gay political leaders locked in desperate, emotional struggles to pass marriage bills in the back halls of capitols, and are are privy to the conversations of families as they discover what the shifting landscape of marriage means for their own relationships.
From decades past to this moment in history, from halls of power to private bedrooms, from the political to the personal, Defining Marriage is the story of how people from all walks of life fought to change marriage -- and how fighting for marriage, in turn, changed them.
This is a vast departure for me. I normally review gay fiction, but this remarkable book by Matthew Baume, while non-fiction, is just as colorful, exciting and moving as any gay fiction I’ve ever read – and, in many ways, more important.
The history of the fight for same-sex marriage in America has been covered in many blogs and books, but never well. The most exhaustive book, written following the Prop 8/Doma rulings by the U. S. Supreme Court, was sadly typical of the manufactured history that has so distorted this struggle. That book, extensively hyped and reviewed, was not the story of the struggle for Marriage Equality, it was the lamentable and biased fictionalization and canonization of the “Dream Team”, the two famous attorneys (Ted Olsen and David Boies) who brought the case against California’s Prop 8 in Federal Court.
The reality is though, that contrary to the book’s assertions, the story of same-sex marriage and the heroes who devoted their lives to ensuring equality, started way before Prop 8, and Prop 8 turned out to be just a local success story, not a precedent. The precedent was actually Edith Windsor’s DOMA case, which was quoted over-and-over again in Federal courts that ended up ruling that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
Well, friends, here’s the real story, presented by a young man with a front-row seat to much of the struggle, the story as told by humble, committed people who risked their fortunes, reputations and lives to fight for justice. Even though Mr. Baume was personally involved in the battle against Prop 8, as a spokesperson for AMFER, the group that funded the case, he spends little time on that oft-told and oft-exaggerated story, and instead reaches back to the pioneers, such as Frank Kameny, in the 1950s and 60s, and the remarkable, brilliant man whose doctoral thesis laid out the goals and strategies for the upcoming fight for marriage equality, in a prescient blueprint decades ahead of its time, Evan Wolfson.
There were the remarkable, courageous attorneys who reached out and changed the world at a time when the world didn’t much care about LGBT people, Mary Bonauto, in particular, who fought for and won the first Civil Unions in the U. S. (Vermont) and marriage in Massachussetts, so many years ahead of other states (2004). There were Edie Windsor and her remarkable, first-time Supreme Court attorney, Roberta Kaplan, who beat the entire U. S. Government in defeating DOMA and setting up the foundation for the fall of the same-sex marriage bans.
And in between there were so many heroes, sung and unsung, such as Harvey Milk, whose constant exhortations to “Come out, come out, wherever you are!” laid the groundwork for the remarkable public acceptance that made the Obergefell ruling possible, the ACLU, Gay And Lesbian Defenders (GLAD), Lambda Legal, all sorts of non-profit law firms, local law firms working pro-bono, civil rights advocates, clerks, envelope stuffers, Broadway performers manning phone banks, thousands upon thousands of hands-on people who toiled thanklessly, for years, just to make sure that people would be allowed to marry the person they love, and have that love recognized as equal to all other citizens’ regardless of the gender of the couple or the composition of their families.
Matt Baume is a great communicator. It was his job, after all. He was the face that showed up on YouTube videos, every week, reporting on the status of the battle - our wins, losses, our heroes, our opponents. He took on this task as a volunteer and kept at it for years, dispensing information that was invaluable to the rest of us not living day-to-day in the trenches, and giving us a feeling of ownership in the outcome of the war, and the inevitability of our success.
In his new book, Defining Marriage, he brings that same clarity and concision to his writing that he brought to his video reports. But he doesn’t make it about him. He reports on the voices, the very personal hopes, successes and failures of many of the major (and minor) participants in this amazing crusade, and never fails to move the reader. I must confess he brought me to tears repeatedly throughout this remarkable book - and more often than not, tears of joy.
He parallels the stories he recounts with a challenging one of his own – despite the fact that he has no question whatsoever that his boyfriend loves him to the depths of his soul, he has no interest in marriage, at all. He supports Matt in the fight; he believes in the fight; he just doesn’t feel any need to marry the man he loves. Mr. Baume turns that into a revelation – that the fight is not about marriage, but about the opportunity to marry, of being equal citizens under the law, and that the victory was not a requirement that gays marry, just the right to do so, if you choose.
Still, I feel bad for Matt. His epiphany strikes me as being at least a little bit a rationalization, because surely there are legal and social reasons why a marriage matters – for instance if, God forbid, one of them dies, the other will have to pay inheritance taxes on their joint home, which could cause the other partner to lose it, depending on his or her financial condition. But, were they married, there would be no tax burden and their home would not be at risk.
But Matt is right; defining marriage is not just defining who can marry, but who has the option to marry, or to decide not to. That is the true test of full citizenship, being able to make your personal individual decisions about the most important things in your life.
Matt brings this blazingly to light, with a clarity and economy that moves the reader right along. Once you start reading Defining Marriage, it’s almost impossible to put it down. Thank you Matt Baume, for the first truly definitive book on the struggle for marriage equality. You have captured a lot of history on the page, and made it live, in all its challenges, obstacles, heroism and hope.
Check out Matt’s exhaustive YouTube library. It’s like watching history as it happens:
Meet Matthew Baume
I'm a writer, storyteller, and video maker based in Seattle whose work focuses on LGBT issues, nerds, and anything that is strange and wonderful.
I'm the author of the book Defining Marriage, and I created the popular podcast The Sewers of Paris, the long-running marriage equality show Marriage News Watch, and a cavalcade of fun videos on YouTube.
As a guest, I've appeared on such shows as Out Chicago, Tomefoolery, and Feast of Fun; and as a host, I've delivered presentations at South by Southwest, Emerald City Comicon, and The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association.
You can find my work on various outlets, including The Advocate, The Stranger, and public radio's Marketplace.