- Expected Jun 1, 2021
The riveting story of the conflict over same-sex marriage in the United States—the most significant civil rights breakthrough of the new millennium
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional,making same-sex unions legal across the United States. But the road to that momentous decision was much longer than many know. In this definitive account, Sasha Issenberg vividly guides us through same-sex marriage’s unexpected path from the unimaginable to the inevitable.
It is a story that begins in Hawaii in 1990, when a rivalry among local activists triggered a sequence of events that forced the state to justify excluding gay couples from marriage. In the White House, one president signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which elevated the matter to a national issue, and his successor tried to write it into the Constitution. Over twenty-fiveyears, the debate played out across the country, from the first legal same-sex weddings in Massachusetts to the epic face-off over California’s Proposition 8 and,finally, to the landmark Supreme Court decisions of United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges. From churches to hedge funds, no corner of American life went untouched.
This richly detailed narrative follows the coast-to-coast conflict through courtrooms and war rooms, bedrooms and boardrooms, to shed light on every aspect of a political and legal controversy that divided Americans like no other. Following a cast of characters that includes those who sought their own right to wed, those who fought to protect the traditional definition of marriage, and those who changed their minds about it, The Engagement is certain to become a seminal book on the modern culture wars.
Journalist Issenberg (Outpatients) depicts both sides of the debate over same-sex marriage in this comprehensive history. Issenberg begins in Hawaii in 1990, when three LGBTQ couples partnered with a local activist to apply for marriage licenses and set in motion a lawsuit that resulted in the first state or federal court decision "acknowledg that a fundamental right to marriage could extend to gay couples." Social conservatives responded with plans to protect heterosexual marriage through the Defense of Marriage Act, while same-sex couples in other states were inspired to push for more rulings in support of gay marriage. Issenberg details the strategizing and motivations on both sides of the issue (though more attention is paid to pro-LGBTQ initiatives) as a variety of groups waged public opinion campaigns through state-level legislative agendas and proposed constitutional amendments. He also makes clear that money, in particular the strategic fund-raising of LGBTQ activist and software company founder Tim Gill, played a key role in paving the way to the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Issenberg lucidly delineates this multifaceted and complex topic and movingly profiles key players including Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel, original litigants in the Hawaii case. The magnitude of detail slows the proceedings somewhat, but even readers well-versed in the subject will learn something new. The result is a definitive portrait of a key victory in the battle for LGBTQ rights.