Jo Becker’s Forcing the Spring details the controversial decision to challenge the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 in federal court. The court case faced a myriad of challenges and setbacks from hostility to the lawsuit from within the LGBT rights community to legal challenges drawing out the case. The authors work highlights the high drama of a court case as well as the human stake in such a move.
Becker’s book takes me back to an incredibly emotionally fraught time in my life. As a gay Californian, I was in the closet for the passage of Prop 8 and remember fully the overwhelming yet mixed emotions of that night. As an Obama supporter, the history of that moment and the knowledge that I, in my first ever Presidential election, had helped make that happen had been very moving. But at the same time Prop 8 passed and the law now said that I was a second class citizen. However, by the end of the book’s timeline, when Prop 8 was overturned and the Defense Against Marriage Act (DOMA) was deemed unconstitutional I was in out and in a committed relationship.
The book’s journey was made all the more dramatic because of the personal stake that I had in the outcome of both cases. To me, despite knowing the outcome, I clung to every word almost as if I expected something else to happen. With a style that perfectly blended the objective reporting of events and the captivating personal stories and internal drama, Forcing the Spring beautifully captured those tense years in the struggle for marriage equality.
Perhaps most interesting to me was the rise of Chad Griffin that seems in many ways to parallel the rise of the LGBT rights movement from losing every battle to winning in the polls, at the ballot box and in the courts. Chad started off as a former White House staffer and consultant in California, spawned the unorthodox idea to challenge Prop 8, helped build the coalition of staffers, donors and lawyers that was necessary to successfully challenge the case. When the case had yet to achieve victory in the Supreme Court, Griffin was offered and took the job as President of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT organization in the country, and a member of the mainstream LGBT movement that had spurned the court case at its inception.
The sense of triumphing the book is palpable, despite the technicality upon which that victory rested. Ted Olson always argued for the boldest constitutional reading; that the freedom to marry was found in the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause embedded in the Constitution. Instead the court sidestepped the issue, finding that the defenders of Prop * had no standing to defend the initiative since the initiative was now law, they had no special grievance nor were directly responsible for the defense of the law. It is clear to the reader that at the time, and in hindsight, this was the first great victory for the gay rights movement. This technicality and the subsequent invalidation of DOMA paved the way for courts to roll back discrimination against the LGBT community in terms of marriage and ultimately ended up with the court striking down all marriage equality bans in 2015.
Forcing the Spring is an important work in the annals of gay rights history, civil rights history and political organization. But for all the high drama and important players in the book, one is left with the feeling that they too can change the world if they put their mind to it.