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A peer-reviewed journal of Anglophone Studies


Marc Solomon, Winning Marriage: the Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Punditsand Won (Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2015). $19.95, 386 pages, ISBN 978-1611688993—Anthony Castet, Université François Rabelais, Tours.


In Winning Marriage, former Republican Marc Solomon provides a compelling and thorough narrative of one of the most controversial culture war issues of the new millennium in the United States: a moral, political, and legal battle over marriage rights for same-sex couples that lasted thirty years. 


Solomon’s original thesis is to demonstrate that the fight over marriage equality turned out to be a bipartisan issue by rallying the support of conservative Democrats and Republicans like Sean Kelly, Sue Tucker, Barry Feingold, and Barbara L’Italien who all supported marriage for same-sex couples in Massachusetts despite their political and religious background. Marriage equality proved to transcend politics and religion after all: it was a campaign to bring about change in America, to reaffirm the principles of freedom and equality upheld by the Constitution, to restore dignity and humanity to gay couples by securing a “crucial badge of citizenship” [48]. To support his argument, the author relies on his legislative victories in Massachusetts and New York, on his three successful referendum campaigns, and on how President Barack Obama’s political journey has evolved over the years.


Solomon gives the reader a unique insight into the complex apparatus of American democracy, more precisely the notion of “checks and balances”, to achieve full equality for same-sex families with a special emphasis on lobbying, money, and (grassroots) networking. In any social movement, all of these are essential components for victory that was also made possible by a movement galvanized by inspirational and knowledgeable fighters and leaders, determined to win hearts and minds by engaging in multiple persuasive conversations across the nation to build a critical mass of states and public support.


Solomon and his allies rightfully acknowledged that they lacked a national, cohesive and united movement centered around a specific strategy, especially after the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act (1996), and the crushing defeat for gay marriage at the ballot box (2004). In 2003, Evan Wolfson, the architect of the movement for same-sex marriage, established the Freedom to Marry that was to spearhead a collective effort to materialize the “roadmap to victory” nationwide. The objective was to gradually bring the issue to a national resolution at the US Supreme Court to end a patchwork system of unequal laws dependent on LGBT Americans’ zip codes. One of the strategies of the campaign was to rely on authentic testimonies to normalize same-sex relationships by showing that they are no different to traditional relationships and to put an end to invisibility, moral prejudice, and irrational fear by “meeting people where they are” and “allowing lawmakers to get to know married couples and their families” [79]. Solomon and his team were well aware that the contact hypothesis would bridge the gap between traditional and same-sex families. The other objective was to assure state lawmakers that supporting the “freedom to marry” was not going to alienate their electoral base, and cost them their seat by using extensive polling data.


The first section of the book is dedicated to the political retaliation orchestrated by Governor Mitt Romney, the Catholic Church, and antigay religious right organizations to undo the Goodridge decision (2003) in Massachusetts. The author’s analysis puts the spotlight on how the subsequent electoral fight to unseat pro-marriage incumbents and the legislative battle to propose a constitutional amendment at the state level epitomized a breach in the separating wall between Church and State. Solomon’s effective pragmatic approach relying on “quality and quantity contacts” [82] is designed to provide the tools to prepare the ground for America’s acceptance of gay marriage, as he details the ways in which the movement managed to dramatically shift first and foremost the lawmakers’ perspectives on same-sex couples:

My own approach to making the case to lawmakers was to figure out ways to connect. I always came to meetings knowing as much as I could about them [...] to find things we had in common. [...] My goal was to build a relationship with them that allowed me to stay engaged [109-110].

Authenticity, sincerity, and integrity were essential to trigger empathy and compassion, except for those who deliberately chose to be vitriolic and refuse to see that gay people did not choose their sexual orientation, i.e. Mitt Romney and the African American clergy. The legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts even prompted President George W. Bush to step in by launching a nationwide moral crusade to protect the sanctity of marriage and DOMA with a federal constitutional amendment. Nevertheless, the conservative backlash failed in the Bay State, as Solomon’s coalition strategically advanced rational arguments to prevent the Constitution from being utilized as a shield to protect private moral biases and inferiorize same-sex families. Most importantly, the author made it a point to debunk, in a systematic way, the assumption that gay couples wanted to change the institution of marriage. The lessons of the successful movement in Massachusetts served as a catalyst to bring about change in Albany after the Republican-controlled Senate rejected a marriage bill in the state of New York (2009), which is the object of the second section.


In the third section, Solomon revisits and explains the failure of the ‘No on 8’ campaign. He contends that the language used was too technical, guilt-inducing, and failed to connect and reassure typical voters who felt gay marriage was something ‘new’. In other words, the best strategy would have been to campaign in favor of marriage equality and not against a constitutional amendment by highlighting the importance of education: “The only antidote to fear was love, empathy, connection [...]. That required using real people talking poignantly about why marriage was important to their family—their parents, their children” [225].Although Solomon praises Federal District Judge Walker’s decision to strike down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional (2010), he expresses his frustration at not being able to display his full potential as a gay rights advocate in a ballot fight initiative to reverse the 2008 vote [171-172]. Instead, he joined Evan Wolfson as National Campaign Director for the Freedom to Marry where they took on three state campaigns in Maine, Minnesota, and Washington to bring marriage equality (2012). However, the reader can never determine the author’s perspective on the negative impact of direct democracy, when instrumentalized to remove the fundamental rights of a minority group, probably because Solomon is a passionate and talented fighter, activist and citizen: “Building campaigns was what I loved doing the most and was best at” [173]. Another intriguing curiosity is the lack of references to establish the specific roles of HRC and/or National LGBTQ Task Force in the fight for marriage equality. Did they take part in the strategy? Were they involved in the decision-making process at some point?


Solomon’s memoir is a valuable contribution to human rights, LGBT studies, and minority politics, as well as an illuminating window into advocacy work and social justice. This material can certainly be supplemented by Eddie Rosenstein’s documentary, The Freedom to Marry, which successfully captured the dedication of ordinary heroes to bring moral reparation and equal rights to same-sex families. Solomon’s documented tribute and experience is evidence that Americans still have the resources and stamina to fight against regression.


© 2017 Anthony Castet & GRAAT On-Line
















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