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Road to marriage

‘From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage’
By Michael J. Klarman
Oxford University Press
276 pages

From the Closet to the Altar, books, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

It’s said that nothing worthwhile comes easily and that’s certainly the case with the twisted, winding road that we’re still on with same-sex marriage laws in the U.S.

In the new book “From the Closet to the Altar” by Michael J. Klarman, you’ll see why and how the advances and lost ground have occurred.

In the years after World War II, gay rights faced “daunting hurdles.”

Organized activism was rare then because homosexuality was basically illegal in every state. Homosexuals and those merely suspected of homosexuality were subject to police raids, surveillance, loss of jobs and worse. They were believed to be “possibly as dangerous as communists.”

By the early-to-mid 1960s, however, social mores had relaxed enough for major news outlets to gingerly cover homosexuality in their pages. The change, Klarman writes, was in part because the Supreme Court deregulated pornography, which opened the door for gay literature. By this time, gay rights organizations were also plentiful and more vocal.

Same-sex marriage at that time, however, was largely a non-issue. Monogamy was practiced, but family life was often sneered at by activists.

Still, the possibility of marriage was pretty enticing.

In Minnesota in 1971, two men were married in a church, though the state refused to recognize their marriage as valid. In 1975, two men in Phoenix applied for a marriage license; a local court voided the marriage. That same year, couples in Colorado found a “more obliging” court clerk and several were married before the state stopped her from issuing more licenses.

By 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected, the Moral Majority reigned and public sentiment was definitely against same-sex marriage. Still, anti-discrimination laws were widely passed across the nation, giving proponents hope, but then AIDS took the focus off the issue.

And then came Bill Clinton.

Author Michael J. Klarman begins his book by discussing how the Supreme Court has often followed social convention. That made me afraid I was getting myself into something dryly emotionless. I’m happy to say I was wrong.

“From the Closet to the Altar” is an interesting, lively look at the history of gay rights as well as that of same-sex marriage. Klarman sets the tone for every history-making milestone by explaining how it’s connected to the event that came before it, which makes it easy to understand how we got where we are now. In between, he makes some excellent, valid points as he looks at the future of the institution, including how and why it’s just a matter of time before there’s nation-wide acceptance.

Starry-eyed dreamers won’t find romance here, but historians and realists will love the facts that “From the Closet to the Altar” presents.


Year in review: Books by the bounty

From the Closet to the Altar, books, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

Drivel, dreck and what the heck?

That kind of sums up the books that were released this year. There were some good things, some downright awful things, and some things that, well, they weren’t bad but they weren’t the best books you’ve ever read, either.

And then there were the gems.

I read about 270 books this year, and (fortunate me!) it was hard to pick favorites, but nonetheless, here they are.

Adult fiction

For me, the world totally ceased to exist while I was reading “The Absolutist” by John Boyne. Set in the years after World War I, it’s the story of a former soldier who decides to return some letters to the sister of the friend who wrote them. Years ago, he knew the woman’s brother — had a crush on him, in fact — but the man is now dead, and when the sister asks what happened, the narrator tells her. What happens left me absolutely breathless.

If you plan on reading just one book this winter, this should be it. Really.

I have to admit: I’m not a major Eric Jerome Dickey reader. Some of his books leave me cold but “An Accidental Affair” chilled me with the action and double-crossing that happens to the book’s narrator, who catches his beloved wife sleeping with another man. What he has to do to get her out of trouble — and get himself out of danger — will make you turn the pages so fast, you’ll practically rip them.

What’s that word again for fiction based on fact? In the case of “October Mourning” by Lesleà Newman, the word is “powerful.”

Based on the Matthew Shepard murder, this book consists of a series of free-form poems from the POV of the things and creatures that witnessed his death: the fence, a doe that wandered by, the road, the truck. There are real quotes entwined amid the verses, which only serves to heighten the punch in the gut you’ll feel with this book.

I listened to it in audio. I bawled til I could barely breathe.

And if you’re thinking about starting a family, “The Paternity Test” by Michael Lowenthal may be one of the better books you’ll read about it.

Yes, this is fiction. It’s about a couple who have had a shaky relationship for years and then finally decide to settle down and have a baby through surrogacy. But it’s not that easy and I can’t tell you anything else.  Just read it — seriously.

Adult non-fiction

Hands-down, the LGBT memoir I loved most this year was “Gypsy Boy” by Mikey Walsh. Walsh was born a Romany Gypsy and lived as a child in Europe in a series of camps and compounds. His father was determined to make Walsh the latest of a lineage of fierce fighters and, to that end, he beat his son every day, sometimes multiple times. But what the elder Walsh didn’t know was that his son was gay.

Walsh gives this book a laissez faire tone, but don’t let that fool you — this book packs a wallop and can’t be missed.

I’m a sucker for a good scandal and “Dropped Names” by Frank Langella had its share. Langella  seemed to always be in the proverbial right place at the right time. That kind of luck put him in proximity of a lot of Hollywood stars and it started his career. This is a light-reading book with dozens of tiny chapters and big names. For any fan of movies, Broadway, or television, particularly from decades past, this is a great book.

As I started reading “From the Closet to the Altar” by Michael J. Klarman, I was afraid I was in for something dry. Not so much, as it turns out: this book isn’t just about gay marriage, it’s also about the history of gay rights and coming proudly out. Turns out that this book is a little like a good martini: a little dry, a little bitter and an interesting taste that leaves you wanting more.

And finally, I don’t think I’ll ever forget “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” by Kate Bornstein. It’s the story of a man who becomes a woman, a religion that almost derails that process and the aftermath of getting out of something very scary.

Bornstein is funny and self-depreciating, snarky and kind. You’ll find a lot of bravado in this book but read it — and read between the lines.

And there you have it: eight books on which you can use your gift certificate. Eight books to help you get through the winter. Books you just can’t miss.