}

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Talk: ‘Defining Marriage’

Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love by Matt Baume

I watched Matt Baume's YouTube videos for years, sharing many of them on this blog, and because of them, I came to think of him as sort of the storyteller of the fight for the freedom to marry in the USA. So, I expected his book would be an expansion of that, especially telling some of the stories that went on in background. I wasn't disappointed—it was all that, and more.

What I didn't expect was how often I'd find tears in my eyes, especially from reading the stories of people who I'd never even heard of before, but who were important players in the battle. I was also surprised at how often Matt's stories brought up strong memories of my own, like when I learned that California's Proposition 8 had passed; many of those memories were painful.

I’d forgotten, until I read this book, how awful election night 2008 turned out to be, and my story mirrored some of those in the book. At first, it was all exciting (I live-blogged the election night coverage), but I went to bed pretty sure that, as I put it then, “hate might win” in California. I was madly refreshing my browser hoping, hoping, HOPING that there’d be a sudden turnaround for the good guys, but it never happened.

The next morning, I was still happy that Obama had won, but it was bittersweet, to use a wildly inadequate term. The profound sadness I felt about California made it hard to feel happy about the new president-elect. I never wrote about about that on this blog, though I later wrote about many other aspects.

Still, the book also included plenty of laughs and happy stories, as I read about the things that led, ultimately, to full marriage equality in the USA. It was great to get them in the context of the larger decades-long story of the struggle.

Toward the end of the book, Matt talks about the profound change in strategy in 2012, a change that led to victory in four out of four states in which marriage equality was on the ballot. Like most people, I wasn’t aware any of that was going on, though I did notice that the ads seemed much better in 2012.

However, sometime later I saw an article about how to talk about marriage equality. Instead of “rights”, it said, talk about commitment and responsibility. Instead of justice or equality, talk about freedom, and, most especially, talk about love. I took that advice to heart.

I’ve never mentioned this before, but when New Zealand had its own battle for marriage equality, I shifted my own rhetoric based on that advice. For example, a typical way I phrased it was, “the government should allow loving same-gender couples to make the same legal and public commitment to each other as opposite-gender couples”.

I still used the term “marriage equality”, since it was by then already well established in the public discourse, but I also started using “freedom to marry”. But I always talked about love, commitment, responsibility—all the things the radical right claimed we were incapable of, but that the people we needed to win over valued.

So, without even knowing it, I was employing the same strategy that worked in 2012 in the USA. Nothing had changed in my attitude—just the way I talked about it. And it was weird. I wasn’t the sort of person who went around talking about love—until I realised how important it was to talk about the reason that the freedom to marry mattered so much.

After reading Matt’s book, and looking back at that long fight, I now think that back then I saw civil unions as being about rights, and marriage as being about love. Civil unions (and similar) provided at least some of the legal rights of marriage, but marriage alone provided the public declaration of love of, and commitment to, one the person who mattered the most to us.

Well, it mattered second most. It was having the option that mattered most. As Matt put it:
“It’s not the act of getting married that matters: it’s the freedom to decide how to define your relationships and define what you have with the person you love.”
Exactly. At its very core, the whole battle was only ever about one thing: Love. And, as I always said it would, love triumphed. And if that;s not an awedome happy ending for a book, then I don’t know what would be.

What I read: Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love by Matt Baume, Kindle Edition, 229 pages, Published July 8 2015 by Matt Baume.

This post is expanded from a review I posted to Goodreads.

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