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Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality Hardcover – April 22, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In 2008, when California’s Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage, gays and gay-rights advocates had a hard decision to make. Should they bypass the tedious state-by-state strategy and force the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, or would they ruin their chances if they moved too soon? Pulitzer Prize–­winning reporter Becker had unprecedented access for five years to the astonishing legal drama that witnessed a massive shift in public and political opinions about gay rights and marriage equality. The unlikely legal team was lead by Ted Olson and David Boies, who had been opponents in the Bush v. Gore lawsuit. Becker details the behind-the-scenes strategizing of the legal team, movement activists, lobbying groups, political figures, celebrity backers, and others as the case wound its way from California to Washington, DC. Becker profiles the couples named in the court case and their personal struggles to have their relationships legally recognized and protected by marriage, to enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals. She also chronicles the political drama that led to reversals on the issue among several political figures, including President Barack Obama, first elected on the very night that the California ban was enacted. Becker’s chronicle of a legal battle reveals deeper changes in the cultural and political landscape of a nation grappling with old prejudices and changing public opinion that continue to resonate. --Vanessa Bush

Review

Praise for Jo Becker's Forcing the Spring

The New York Times Book Review
A stunningly intimate story… Maybe because she’s such a  versatile reporter, Becker saw the big picture. The fight for marriage equality did not end in a total victory on the Supreme Court steps but triumphed in a higher court, the court of public opinion. It may not be the story she set out to tell, but it’s a great one nonetheless.”

Entertainment Weekly
"A stunning account of the legal battles stemming from Prop 8... Drawing on five years of unlimited access to Olson and Boies' team, [Becker] has crafted an engrossing narrative filled with details gleaned from fraught backroom conversations and private emails. Though some critics allege that Becker highlights certain key figures at the expense of others, the history she re-creates using material as dry as court records and judges' written opinions is as taut and suspenseful as a novel. She also zeroes in on human moments. Forcing the Spring stands as not just the definitive account of the battle for same-sex marriage rights but a thrilling and compassionate one, too. Grade: A"

The Washington Post
Forcing the Spring is a riveting legal drama, a snapshot in time, when the gay rights movement altered course and public opinion shifted with the speed of a bullet train... Becker’s most remarkable accomplishment is to weave a spellbinder of a tale that, despite a finale reported around the world, manages to keep readers gripped until the very end.

Richard Socarides, The New Yorker
“Becker’s account of the hearings, and her analysis of the complicated legal theories involved in the long appeals process, are excellent. Her writing about the four plaintiffs in the case—the true emotional heroes of this book—is particularly affecting... If you are interested in the story of how a Hollywood political consultant and a conservative lawyer joined forces in 2009, in the belief that they could really make a difference, and, no doubt, gain some notoriety for themselves and their cause, helping to dramatically change the way Americans thought of gay people and the way gay people thought of themselves—this book is for you. The real story it tells is how seemingly small moments, occurring by happenstance, when combined with boldness and imagination, can help to change the course of history.”

Jonathan Capehart, The Washington Post
“A riveting account of how California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage there, went from voter passage in 2008 to Supreme Court invalidation in 2013. The incredible access the New York Times investigative reporter had with the principals involved and others will satisfy that political-junky thirst for the backstory swirling around historical events… Becker gives readers an insider’s view of what they watched in real time over four and a half years. Her interviews and observations are presented in a riveting fashion that reminded me of Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters, the first of three books on Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement.”

Elizabeth Birch, The Bilerico Project:
“Becker takes the reader on an extraordinary journey inside a single piece of test case litigation, a riveting tale with a full cast of colorful characters, the very best of which are the four authentic and down-to-earth plaintiffs...Rarely has an episode of one piece of LGBT work been captured in such sharp relief and detail. The story unfolds like a journal, revealing an unlikely cast of characters that literally orchestrate the death of a very painful episode of California's history...No one should miss reading this book!”

Kirkus (STARRED review)
“[A] gripping narrative... [Becker’s] momentum is resolutely forward, her writing so brisk and urgent that even though we know the outcome, the tension in the courtroom scenes and the intervals of waiting for decisions remains taut, even nerve-wracking. Becker’s access gives us insights into other aspects of the story, as well—the deliberations within the Obama administration, the pro–gay marriage statements of Vice President Biden that seemed to animate the president, and the thinking in the Justice Department. She gives a gripping account of the trial in the U.S. District Court (with some fine analysis of the role of Judge Vaughn Walker, gay himself), some of which she reproduces directly from court records. Becker follows the case from there to the U.S. Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court, where we listen to the oral arguments and follow the sometimes-twisted thinking of the justices. First-rate reporting informs this thrilling narrative of hope.”

Publishers Weekly (STARRED review)
"Channeling the extended legal battle over California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage into an engaging narrative, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Becker presents a thorough, perceptive read. Beginning with private conversations among friends and moving all the way to the Supreme Court, Becker constructs the legal story with the privilege of generous access to the plaintiffs and legal team that fought for marriage equality. Along the way, everyone from President Obama to director/actor Rob Reiner and current Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin find their way into the action. Becker navigates the vast amount of legal history, backroom conversations, media wrangling, and personal stories with an ease that makes what could otherwise be a demanding or partisan story into learned political journalism. While the tendency to paint the fight for gay marriage as the pinnacle of gay rights might dismay those involved in other aspects of the political struggle, Becker's insights into the legal process are evenhanded. In the end, the book stands testament to good political writing and a wealth of information made alive through prose."

Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine and The Oath
“Jo Becker’s Forcing the Spring is a superb behind-the-scenes account of the legal battle to bring marriage equality to the nation. Drawing on extraordinary access to the internal deliberations of the plaintiffs’ team, Becker shows how law, politics, and personality combined to create a landmark in the history of the Supreme Court—and of the United States.”

Benjamin Todd Jealous, former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
“Jo Becker’s Forcing the Spring provides the definitive insider account of one of the great civil rights struggles of our times. It is an important and moving historical account that reads like a page-turning legal thriller. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to move our nation forward.”

David Von Drehle, author of Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year and Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
“The movement for marriage equality has been an extraordinary example of historic change at hyper speed. Jo Becker, a gifted journalist, had unparalleled access to the legal drama as well as the human stories of love and courage, and she weaves her witness into a fast-paced narrative of lasting importance.”

David Finkel, author of Thank You for Your Service and The Good Soldiers
“Jo Becker is one of America’s very best journalists, and this book showcases her at her finest. Meticulously reported and passionately written, Forcing the Spring not only illuminates the fight in America for marriage equality, it’s also a thrilling and exhilarating page-turner.”
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; First Edition edition (April 22, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594204446
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204449
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #624,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 49 people found the following review helpful By operabuff on May 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a terrific book – engrossing, beautifully written and deeply moving. I could not put it down. It is the story of a group of individuals who in 2008 decided to work together to bring a constitutional challenge to the infamous Prop 8 in California, with an eye to a chance at the Supreme Court. At the time, many in the gay establishment bitterly opposed this as going too fast, too soon. Judging from the venom-filled reviews here, some have never gotten over it! (And give the impression that they didn’t even bother to read the book before trashing it.)

No one can deny the startling speed at which support for same-sex marriage has grown since 2008 and I believe that it has been due in part to the efforts of the brave individuals chronicled in this book. One of the many heroes of the story is Ted Olson, the renowned conservative lawyer of Bush vs. Gore fame who is one of the most eloquent and outspoken supporters of same-sex marriage today. There has been a shift also due in great part to younger gay people who grew up with less internalized homophobia, and who are demanding equal rights for all now as opposed to incremental crumbs. The book does not aim nor claim to be a comprehensive history of the same-sex marriage movement in the US. The author herself characterizes it as “a fly-on-the-wall account of this chapter in the nation’s civil rights history”. Wonderful book, highly recommended.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Caldog on May 26, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Imagine a book that purports to be about the Grand Canyon, but as you read it you realize, page after page, the book is only a vivid and exhaustive description of the visitors center. You read about the architecture of the visitors center, its history, a discussion of the gift shop's wares and a flattering profile of the current manager. But the book gives only scant and dismissive reference to the Grand Canyon's spectacular age-old landforms just outside the door.

Such a book is "Forcing the Spring," Jo Becker's account of the marriage equality movement. It focuses almost entirely on the Proposition 8 litigation, the Windsor case, and some of the recent political trends and victories favoring same-sex marriage. References to the ACLU, Lambda Legal and like organizations that have pursued a different strategy to secure LGBT marriage rights are mentioned only in passing and in a less than favorable light. The "Fight for Marriage Equality" has been far broader than the cramped scope of this book, its subtitle notwithstanding.

Becker depicts Chad Griffin - the current president of the Human Rights Campaign - as the driving force to secure marriage equality's recent gains. Oddly while Theodore Olson is "Olson" and David Boies is "Boies", Mr. Griffin is "Chad." And so "Chad" is the hero of "Forcing the Spring", making his appearance throughout the book as he glides from strategy session to celebrity fundraiser to political elbow-rubbing to campaign rally to election night vigil to legal same-sex weddings, interspersed with tender moments involving the hero and his marriage equality co-crusaders.

Other book reviews and op-eds have detailed the manifest omissions and inaccuracies concerning the history and personae of the marriage equality movement.
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20 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Eric Selby on May 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The reason for the plethora of one-star reviews, mostly if not all written by people who obviously haven’t read this excellent piece of well-researched journalism begins in chapter 3, “Just Wait.” Jo Becker discusses the two sides—the one advocating for a slow state-by-state legalizing of same-sex marriage with that of those who set out to overturn California’s Proposition 8 through the U. S. courts, an effort to move the issue to the level of the U. S. Supreme Court.
What the author does not do—but is accused of doing in these one-star “reviews—is to take sides. In this 400-plus page book she is merely reporting and doing so in excellent moving prose.
However, those who advocated for “just wait” are angry at her, one being the ubiquitous Andrew Sullivan who tends to be rather ego-centric, wanting all the credit. This book is only about that landmark case which would find Proposition 8 unconstitutional and would, as a result, allow for marriage equality in California. The book is NOT about—and not intended to be about—the sweeping history of how the gay “community” got to this point in history. And Ms. Becker attacks absolutely no one. She belittles no one. So be warned that what you read in those one-star reviews is very biased.
Jo Becker embedded herself with the players and the most unlikely of attorneys to take the case, Ted Olson, the Republican who, in 2000, won the Bush v. Gore case. Ironically the other attorney working to defeat Proposition 8, working with Olson, would be the attorney who represented Al Gore, David Boies.
This is such an easy read as the players are introduced including America’s favorite Meathead (remember him, Archie Bunker’s son-in-law, the liberal in “All in the Family”?), Rob Reiner and his wife Michele.
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Format: Kindle Edition
It was wonderful to be able to read about the trial that protested Proposition 8. It should have been broadcast to the public, but since it was not--this is the next best thing.

The book read like a great fiction story, but it was not fiction. It is still beyond my understanding why allowing gay people to marry would hurt anyone. We are a country that is supposed to believe in equal rights, but every equal right whether it be for women, black, or the LGBT community is so hard to achieve!

Even though I knew the ending, it was still a thrilling read. There is a picture of the defendants getting married right after the verdict came down and the caption reads "Marriage is the principal happy ending in all of our tales."

Amen. Finally California got it right.
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