Love Wins’ recounts the long, hard-fought path to marriage equality

Chuck Twardy

Three and a half stars

Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality By Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell, $28.

When a reporter shares a byline with a person at the heart of her story, kiss objectivity goodbye. But when the story is the Supreme Court’s historic ruling last year that struck down state laws banning gay marriage, it’s a gauge of our times that the rightness is a given, for most of us at least.

In Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality, plaintiff Jim Obergefell and Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Debbie Cenziper deliver a wonk’s delight in legal wrangling and strategy, but the strength of their book is in the human lives it attaches to Obergefell and others’ names. Obergefell and his late husband, John Arthur, married as Arthur was dying of ALS. They had to marry in Maryland because Ohio voters had outlawed gay marriage, and they wanted a death certificate that listed Obergefell as spouse. Longtime civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein recruited other plaintiffs, and their case joined those from other states on collision course with the conservative Sixth Circuit.

Meanwhile, other appeals courts had let lower court rulings stand, and same-sex marriage was legal in 35 states. But the ruling left litigants a few weeks to appeal to the Supreme Court that session. That brought to a focal point the efforts of many people and groups over a long time, some fearing the Sixth Circuit would delay progress, others believing it in essence provoked the Supreme Court to settle matters.

The litigants’ stories bring home how and why support for same-sex marriage became normative, and why the change had to come by way of judicial action and not lengthy ballot initiatives. For instance: the mother unable to get her sick child admitted at a hospital because her name was not on the child’s birth certificate, or the husband unable to get his spouse’s body cremated because he was not on the death certificate.

Occasionally, the storytelling strays into inessential tidbits about minor characters and the writing turns clunky. But how Obergefell became Obergefell is a lively read. And it’s encouraging to read about how determined plaintiffs got the country’s highest court to agree that voters could not deprive them of rights.

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