Marc Solomon tells it in “Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits — and Won,” New York’s state legislature was days from voting on marriage in 2011 when Brooklyn’s John Sampson, then the leader of the State Senate Democrats, nearly killed the legislation twice.
With one day to go before the end of the legislative session, Sampson announced that five of his members would leave Albany to attend to various personal responsibilities. He backed down after Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to publicly blame him for killing marriage. Then just minutes before the vote, Sampson demanded that nearly all of his conference, 23 out of 30 members, be allowed to speak on the Senate floor before that vote. That would have violated the deal made with Senate Republicans that limited the speeches to four, and Republicans would have pulled the bill. Sampson backed down after Steve Cohen, a senior Cuomo aide, threatened to publicly blame Sampson for wrecking the marriage equality bill.
Solomon’s book is filled with these sorts of fascinating details. He led much of the political organizing that stopped Mitt Romney, then the governor of Massachusetts, and his conservative allies from overturning a 2003 decision by that state’s highest court that allowed gay and lesbian couples to wed. This was the first successful marriage case since a 1993 Hawaii case. That earlier decision was overturned by Hawaii voters in 1998 when they amended their state constitution to effectively bar same-sex unions. The fight in Massachusetts a decade later was fierce.
Following the Massachusetts victory, Solomon was a central player in the battle to win marriage in New York and in the 2012 ballot initiatives that enacted marriage in Maine, Maryland, and Washington and stopped a marriage ban in Minnesota. He was well placed to tell the inside story and he delivers. The book is fast paced and well written; it is an exciting read.
The first 220 pages of this 368-page book are devoted to discussing the marriage fights in Massachusetts and New York. I followed marriage in New York closely so that was of greatest interest to me, though both stories are equally gripping. I was aware of only some of the private discussions and backroom deals that were part of winning marriage in New York. It appears that Solomon has delivered the entire story here.
In addition to the discussion of Sampson’s bungling, we learn what took took place in the Republican conference of the State Senate and the very difficult negotiations between the Cuomo administration and State Senate Republicans and Democrats.
The chapters that follow those on Massachusetts and New York are less interesting, as Solomon discusses much that is already known. The tales on the ballot initiatives and President Barack Obama shifting to a pro-marriage position are less detailed and less exciting. But those chapters are still worth the read.
While “Winning Marriage” is an important contribution to the history of the marriage movement, this book should not be mistaken for a history. Solomon is currently the national campaign director at Freedom to Marry — which was founded in 2003 by Evan Wolfson, a leading marriage proponent — and has championed same-sex marriage for more than a decade. Solomon’s book is dedicated to Wolfson and Mary Bonauto, the attorney at the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who won the 2003 marriage case in Massachusetts.
Solomon is a partisan.
Anyone who wants to know how Romney and his allies fought or how the opponents of marriage in New York or any other state viewed the issue will have to look elsewhere. Solomon does offer some grudging praise for Frank Schubert, the political consultant who orchestrated the Prop 8 ballot initiative in California that reversed a State Supreme Court decision allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry there. Schubert was a “strong adversary,” Solomon wrote.
Solomon’s partisanship is occasionally annoying. He is excessive in his praise for his allies. Describing Cuomo’s backing for marriage in New York in 2011, Solomon writes, “I could tell this operation was smart, disciplined, aggressive, and relentlessly dedicated to winning.” Relentless is an adjective that Solomon used unrelentingly in this book.
That same year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a speech at Cooper Union in support of marriage. In “Winning Marriage,” Solomon described that speech as a “powerful public address on the cause.” I attended that event and can say that Bloomberg continued his longstanding practice of being uninspiring when reading from a text. The mayor was always at his best when speaking without a prepared speech.
Being a partisan, Solomon never grapples with some of the difficult issues in the marriage movement. Millions of the dollars that have supported marriage equality have come from hedge fund billionaires who have done some ugly stuff with their money, including backing some anti-LGBT Republicans and attacking the economies of developing nations. The marriage movement, which is tightly controlled by lawyers, PR experts, and political consultants, has also presented a very narrow image of the community that has effectively silenced other voices and dissent. These discussions will have to come in some other book, but I can still strongly recommend “Winning Marriage.”
WINNING MARRIAGE: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits –– and Won | ForeEdge | $27.95 | 368 pages