The riveting story of the conflict over same-sex marriage in the United States—the most significant civil rights breakthrough of the new millennium
"Full of intimate details, battling personalities, heated court cases, public persuasion.” —John Williams, The New York Times
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional, making same-sex unions legal across the United States. But the road to that momentous decision was much longer than many know. In this definitive account, Sasha Issenberg vividly guides us through same-sex marriage’s unexpected path from the unimaginable to the inevitable.
It is a story that begins in Hawaii in 1990, when a rivalry among local activists triggered a sequence of events that forced the state to justify excluding gay couples from marriage. In the White House, one president signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which elevated the matter to a national issue, and his successor tried to write it into the Constitution. Over twenty-five years, the debate played out across the country, from the first legal same-sex weddings in Massachusetts to the epic face-off over California’s Proposition 8 and, finally, to the landmark Supreme Court decisions of United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges. From churches to hedge funds, no corner of American life went untouched.
This richly detailed narrative follows the coast-to-coast conflict through courtrooms and war rooms, bedrooms and boardrooms, to shed light on every aspect of a political and legal controversy that divided Americans like no other. Following a cast of characters that includes those who sought their own right to wed, those who fought to protect the traditional definition of marriage, and those who changed their minds about it, The Engagement is certain to become a seminal book on the modern culture wars.
About the Author
SASHA ISSENBERG is the author of three previous books, including The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. He has covered presidential elections as a national political reporter in the Washington bureau of The Boston Globe, a columnist for Slate, and a contributor to Bloomberg Politics and Businessweek. He is the Washington correspondent at Monocle, and his work has also appeared in New York, The New York Times Magazine, and George, where he served as a contributing editor. He teaches in the political science department at UCLA.
“A lively, encyclopedic survey of the struggle for marriage equality . . . Issenberg emphasizes an overlapping, conflicting and often serendipitous series of events . . . a complex and chaotic chain reaction that thrust same-sex marriage from the realm of conservative conjecture . . . to the forefront of the American consciousness, to the top of the gay political agenda and, eventually, to the halls of the Supreme Court.”
—Eric Cervini, The New York Times Book Review
“A comprehensive history. . . . Conveys social history as the grand drama it really is, full of intimate details, battling personalities, heated court cases, public persuasion.”
—John Williams, The New York Times
“Part Grisham-esque legal thriller, part Sorkin-esque political drama, and part Maddow-esque historical yarn.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A tour-de-force. . . . Engaging, authoritative and impeccably sourced.”
“Insightful and breezy . . . Tracing the evolution of both public opinion and politics around marriage equality, the work holds a mirror up to how much America has changed in a short period of time and how those in power actually followed the public embrace of same-sex marriage, rather than lead it.”
—Philip Elliot, Time Magazine
“Issenberg is a journalist who digs deep, and this sprawling, authoritative, finely detailed book reflects that.”
“Comprehensive . . . From the 1990 Hawaii same-sex marriage license applications through lawyer Mary Bonauto’s work, Issenberg’s chronicle is an important contribution.”
—Washington Post (10 Books to Read in June)
“This meticulously reported work sheds new light on just about every aspect of this fraught history . . . It is sure to become the definitive book on one of the most important issues of our time.”
—O. Henry Magazine
“This lively, thorough and fascinating history reconstructs the fight for gay marriage, tracing how an issue that barely registered among queer activists became, in the wake of outspoken opposition from the religious right, a priority.”
—The New York Times (weekly roundup)
“Issenberg's nuanced and insightful reporting brings clarity to this important milestone."
“A definitive portrait of a key victory in the battle for LGBTQ rights."
“The Engagement is a sprawlingly rich history of the United States' most transformative equality movement. Issenberg's impressively wide-ranging interviews allow him to go beyond the familiar story of trailblazing lawyers to give lesser-known campaign consultants due credit for their critical contributions to bringing about a sea-change in America's acceptance of gay equality. Likewise, Issenberg's fair-minded treatment of equality opponents further demonstrates The Engagement will be an enduringly significant work of history."
—David J. Garrow, author of Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade and Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama
“In this deeply engaging and comprehensively reported work, Sasha Issenberg traces the story of marriage equality from its beginnings as a nearly impossible dream to its current status as an essential right. This engrossing account of social change, political will and human rights arrives at a moment of great urgency. Issenberg’s narrative will inform the efforts of anyone who strives for a more equal country, and touch the heart of anyone who has seen their rights come up for debate.”
—Pete Buttigieg, author of Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future
“Sasha Issenberg has produced a sweeping, inside history of the first great civil rights triumph of the new century, masterfully weaving together the stories of the pioneering activists and the political and legal strategies they devised into a book of penetrating reportage and analysis that reads like a thriller.”
—Joshua Green, author of Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising
“At once political history, movement autopsy, legal chronicle, and fly-on-the-wall account, Sasha Issenberg’s latest is a one of his most thought-provoking books to date. By reckoning with the stories of those who hoped finally to legalize same-sex marriage, as well as those who were determined to delay, or actively to prevent, such a revolution, Issenberg animates one of this nation’s most recent and dramatic civil rights fights as few others have. And, in doing so, he makes clear not only that its origins were most complex, but also why its legacy remains most uncertain.”
—Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy