Tuesday, May 5, 2015

“Speak Now” — Well Spoken

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I’d like to start with belated congratulations to Professor Kenji Yoshino for his marriage (truly belated; he married in 2009). The day Speak Now arrived at my door, my husband and I were watching Professor Yoshino on the The Rachel Maddow Show, where he was discussing the (then) upcoming Supreme Court hearing on same-sex marriage with Steve Kornacki (who was subbing). I made a comment about two gay men watching two gay men talk about same-sex marriage.

“Is Yoshino gay?” I noted that he was. “Is he married?” That I didn’t know, although I opened my copy of Speak Now and read as far as the dedication to Ron Stoneham. Perhaps? I didn’t need to read further than page 1 to find out the answer. Yoshino and Stoneham married in 2009. They have two children. In of themselves, they embody the sort of people that lawyers for marriage equality might want to have as plaintiffs, a point that he brings up in his book.

Speak Now has the longer title of Speak Now; Marriage Equality on Trial; The Story of Hollingsworth v. Perry (shades of the eighteenth-century long title, because that is a long title), but in addition to being the story of Hollingsworth v. Perry, it contains a lot of biographical information about Kenji Yoshino, bringing to mind the old adage, “the personal is political.” That Yoshino made Speak Now personal, even though he was not personally involved in the Perry trial in any way is something that gives the book much of its power.

There is a problem with book on current events; most of the readers weren’t under a rock when those events were happening. I’ve followed the fight for marriage equality for more than twenty years, paying careful to attention to Goodridge v. Department of Public Health in Massachusetts, Marriage Cases in California, Prop. 8 and the 2008 election, and the Perry case itself. (And to cast even further back, the fight for domestic partnerships in California, a status that provided needed protections, but left me cold.) Like Yoshino, I have been an avid spectator. That leads to the problem: is he going to tell me anything I don’t already know?

I read with great interest the parts in which Yoshino covered events that I knew quite well. I never found myself saying, “yes, I know that, thank you,” even when I did know that. He kept the context coming, as well as details that were not previously reported, and the impact on his own life, which livened the narrative. One of the most interesting sections was one in which he visited four of the Prop 8 witnesses who pulled out of the trial. One of them noted that it was clear to him that he was not the defense’s first choice, and that there were others, “far more sane than I am, who ran screaming when they were asked.” Yoshino completely destroys the claim made that witnesses withdrew for fear that the trial would be televised, since all their withdrawals happened after Judge Walker was told he would not be able to broadcast the trial, even on closed circuit to another courtroom.

In the end, Speak Now is a paean to the importance of the trial system as a means of getting to the truth. He repeats David Boises statement that the witness box is “a lonely place to lie.” Yoshino contrasts the adversarial process of the courtroom with that of election campaigns and legislative testimony, pointing out that as harsh as the courtroom can seem, there is much less opportunity to grandstand, obfuscate, and lie. Let’s be honest: most of the campaign for Prop 8 was based on lies. I remember the spectacle of the Mormon mommy bloggers, women to took to the internet to start blogs reporting the pro-Prop–8 talking points pushed by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, which seemed more like an astroturf campaign than anything else. The game plan of Prop 8 was to incite fears of gay people in the voters. Yoshini largely steers clear of such issues as the support given to the Prop 8 campaign by the LDS church, or really any other religious support; he keeps his focus on lawyers and courtrooms.

It’s a bit of a shame, since as I was reading it, I looked forward to his getting to the testimony of Hak-Shing William Tam, who was the official proponent of record in the case, which meant that the Prop 8 lawyers couldn’t drop him. Mr. Tam had told people that same-sex marriage would lead to the country falling into Satan’s hand. The defendants did not call Mr. Tam to the stand, but the plaintiffs could. Even without a discussion of Mr. Tam’s appearance on the stand, Speak Now is still a wonderful book.

It is timely to congratulate Professor Yoshino for this wonderful book. If you have the slightest curiosity about Prop 8 and its importance in the struggle for gay rights, you should read this book.
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