Category Archives: about authors

Maggie Smith-Dalton profiles authors in Salem Gazette, 6.1.07

Hitch your wagon to a star.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Society and Solitude”
It’s the faces which impact you most directly.

The book’s text is by turns informative, thought-provoking and challenging. The narrative is well-crafted. The political machinations and the constitutional arguments engage your intellect and the human interest stories kindle that little hearth in your heart. The book itself is pure aesthetic pleasure — handsomely produced, cleanly designed, glossy and oversized, lavishly illustrated. It even smells good.

But as you leaf through, you look at the photos, at the beaming faces of the newly-married couples, and marvel at their diversity: old, young, middle-aged. You gaze at their children — that tiny girl dressed in frothy lace nervously ready for the wedding march; a laughing child dancing up a storm at the wedding reception; the two shyly-smiling boys draped over parental shoulders. Children, of every description, framed in flowers, encircled by a hug.

“I’m glowing from the inside. Happy is an understatement,” says one bride, married to her partner of 18 years in an early-morning May ceremony.

Many readers will realize, with a start, that as they read they are smiling too, are actually beaming ear-to-ear, echoing the absolute undiluted joy radiating from those wedding-day faces. That the reader is gazing at pictures of women coupled with women and men hand-in-hand with men may not cross his or her mind until later.

Perhaps that’s where “Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages” a new book about the historical and history-making journey to secure the rights of marriage and equal treatment under the law for same-sex couples, most achieves its goal.

According to its authors, their purpose in writing the book can be described in its most basic sense as underscoring the democratic birthrights of all citizens and urging the necessity of advocacy and action to secure those rights.

“I’m passionate about democracy,” Patricia Gozemba tells the Gazette as she and co-author Karen Kahn sit chatting recently in a sunny, breezy corner of the Front Street Coffeehouse, “as a strategy for bringing equity to all people.”

 “Democracy” is a word used frequently in conversation with the couple, who live in Salem, and never is it uttered casually.

“Courting Equality” also features the work of the couple’s longtime friend and colleague, photographer Marilyn Humphries; the book is lavishly illustrated with photos which place the viewer right smack dab in the “action” of the story.

Her photos serve to highlight the diverse personalities, ages and situations of the many people, both gay and straight, who participated in the struggle to achieve what advocates see as an affirmation of basic, constitutionally-provided civil rights.

Kahn and Gozemba met in 1987, through Humphries, when Marilyn was Pat’s roommate and worked as a photographer for “Sojourner: The Women’s Forum” (at the time a widely-read activist, feminist newspaper). Kahn edited the paper at the time, and for the following 10 years.

A casual friendship developed between the two women; but, they say, they really “got together” at a 1990 Women’s Studies Conference in Ohio — “on Independence Day,” they laugh. They have been together for 17 years and married in 2005.

Through their eyes

Both Gozemba, who is a retired Salem State College English and women’s studies professor, and Kahn, who is now the communications director for the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (www.paraprofessional.org) have long histories separately and together of involvement in social and political causes.

They recounted childhood memories of making speeches “standing for democracy,” holding neighborhood carnivals to raise money for people with multiple sclerosis, and keen awareness of social justice issues and civil rights issues from early ages. Their advocacy work currently includes environmental issues; health care policy, research, and analysis; and, of course, the rights of gays and lesbians in civic life.

“I’m very much influenced by Emerson and Thoreau,” says Gozemba, “I always felt that what I was doing [as a teacher] was to empower students to ask questions … question authority.” She sees her current work as a natural outgrowth of her lifelong calling as an innovative teacher, and continues to be a driving force in educational efforts such as The History Project, a documentary effort built around the history of Boston’s gay and lesbian community (www.historyproject.org).

The well-constructed text of “Courting Equality” includes engaging anecdotes about individual plaintiffs and participants in the fight to obtain rights for same-sex couples; you come to understand the emotional impact of the struggle through their eyes.

Yet the book is also intellectually engaging, and provides much documentary and historical detail, albeit presented in an accessible fashion. One chapter provides a succinct historical account of the legal and societal journey gay and lesbian activists have been on since the early 1970s. Other chapters put the reader “inside” the legislative discussions, argument, and strategies as the fight to ensure marriage equality wound its way through successive Massachusetts constitutional conventions.

And the goal was reached when, in light of affirmation that “the Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens,” on May 17, 2004, the state began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Coincidentally, May 17, 2004 was also the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, another landmark date in civil rights history.

Social responsibility

Although the culminating result of these struggles has been positive for the marriage equality cause, with Massachusetts’s highest court affirming the constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry — fueling the momentum towards the same result in at least 10 other states of the union —worries remain for these couples.

A proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, and a push to put such an amendment on the 2008 ballot as a strategy to reopen the fight, is creating feverish lobbying efforts on both sides of the issue. In early May, a Constitutional Convention was held by the House and Senate, but they avoided taking a vote on the amendment.

The next session is slated for June 14, and Senate President Therese Murray has said the plan is to put the measure before the Legislature for an up-or-down vote.

“When we leave this church, there are forces of anger, ignorance, and hate that seek to tear asunder the bonds of this marriage,” state Rep. Mike Festa is quoted saying at the wedding of state Sen. Jarrett Barrios and Doug Hattaway. “But … the inexorable march toward full equality cannot be stopped.”

“They [the right wing] want Massachusetts to become the center of the battle,” says Kahn. “But the reality is that we have this enormous positive momentum.”

Gozemba adds, “We have in New England a visionary culture … and a social responsibility.” She feels the most important message of their work is to bring home the message that active, ordinary citizens are the indispensable components of a working democracy.

“Our book crystallizes a lot of the actions, small and large, that people took, the strategies … We are showing what people can do if they flex their muscles in the democratic system” the educator says.

The May-morning sunlight streams over both of them, as they sit at a little round cafe table amid the bustle of a now late-morning coffeehouse crowd — many of whom greet Gozemba and Kahn as they pass.

Two faces alight with passion, determination, and yes — with devotion — to each other, and to their many causes. Causes which could all, perhaps, be summed up as one cause … hitching the practical wagons of democracy to the stars of idealism and living as full citizens of a cherished democracy.

Book of Love

Barbara Taormina interviewed Courting Equality authors Gozemba, Kahn, and Humphries. Her feature appeared in North Shore Sunday on May 27, 2007:

When Pat Gozemba and Karen Kahn first got together 17 years ago, they weren’t really thinking about marriage. Part of being a same-sex couple meant breaking free from typical roles and expectations.

“Marriage really wasn’t my issue,” says Gozemba, who adds that tradition was something gay and lesbian couples were moving away from, not pursuing.

And 17 years ago, marriage — and all the benefits and rights attached — wasn’t an option; it wasn’t within the realm of possibilities.

But all of that changed in November 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled the state could no longer deny the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage to same-sex couples. This was, after all, Massachusetts, and the commonwealth or at least the SJC didn’t want to create a group of second-class citizens.

Gozemba and Kahn rode the roller coaster ride to that landmark decision, and along the way their feelings about marriage changed. Same-sex marriage was no longer a personal decision or statement. It was a civil rights issue, and one of the most important civil rights issues of the opening years of the 21st century.

And when you’re cruising along an important shift in history, you want to do something; you want to play a part. So Gozemba, a former professor of English and women’s studies at Salem State, and Kahn, a former editor of Sojourner, a Boston-based feminist newspaper, did one of the things they do best — they wrote.

They joined forces with Marilyn Humphries, a photojournalist from Beverly, and together the three women told the story of the battle over same-sex marriage in a new book, “Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages.”

Kahn is the first to admit that when she agreed to do the book, she didn’t quite think it through.

“We knew we should help, we knew we should do this,” she says. “But we didn’t realize it would take up two years of our lives.”

Writing the history of people who are dead and buried is hard enough, but writing history as it unfolds around you can be excruciating. Things change, circumstances evolve and in the case of the same-sex marriage battle in Massachusetts, legislative votes keep changing the landscape.

For Gozemba and Kahn that meant dropping everything for last-minute updates and giving up vacations to do final re-writes. And although the story isn’t finished just yet, the book is.

 But for anyone hoping to understand the importance of the next chapter — the upcoming Constitutional Convention in June when state lawmakers will vote again on whether or not to put question of same-sex marriage on the 2008 ballot — “Courting Equality” is a must-read. It’s a history filled with big ideas and small touches that offers us all what we need to know and understand about why same-sex marriage is important to everyone.

Every picture tells a story

Like Gozemba and Kahn, Marilyn Humphries wasn’t all that determined to walk down any aisles.

“Marriage didn’t seem to matter that much,” she says. “Now in retrospect, I see that getting into certain institutions elevates your rights across the board.”

That’s not an easy concept to capture on film, but Humphries manages. “Courting Equality” is filled with images, personal and public, that show the passion that has surrounded the same-sex marriage debate. There are plenty of shots of speeches and protests at the State House that capture the emotion on both sides. And Humphries is especially kind to many of the state legislators who risked careers with their votes.

In fact, she’s even kind to the opponents who showed up to protest equal marriage.

“There were far uglier pictures of them that she could have chosen for the book,” laughs Gozemba.

Humphries’ photos offers a detailed historical record that takes us back in time to earlier fights for gay rights, through the Goodridge decision which legalized same-sex marriage and right into the center of the heated debates that played out on Beacon Hill.

 But it’s the same sharp eye for detail that makes “Courting Equality” fun just to flip through. There are slews of pictures of celebrations, wedding photos with cakes and flowers and portraits of parents and kids that show what same-sex marriage means to countless families throughout the state.

Gozemba and Kahn follow pretty much the same recipe for success with the text. If you need or want a historical overview of the gay rights moments in America, “Courting Equality” has that. The authors take a lot of complex legal and political information and make it accessible.

But like Humphries, Gozemba and Kahn go a step further and make “Courting Equality” a story about individual couples and families.

“We wanted to tell this history in a narrative fashion,” says Gozemba. “People relate to stories.”

And those stories resonate. When they explain the battle the gay community waged over the right to care for foster children, they do it through the experience of Donald Babets and David Jean, who were asked by the Department of Social Services to care for two young brothers. Babets and Jean opened their home and their hearts to those kids, only to have the state overrule DSS and move them to another home.

And when Gozemba and Kahn describe the scene in front of Cambridge City Hall on May 16, 2004, the night before the first same-sex marriage licenses were issued, they take you there in the company of Ralph Hodgdon and Paul McMahon, who had been together for 49 years and really weren’t looking to get married. Hodgdon and McMahon showed up for the party but apparently before they knew it, they were in line for a license.

Most of us have followed the equal marriage debate through television broadcasts and newspaper accounts, and we’ve gotten the sound bites and — if we’ve paid close enough attention — we’ve picked up the general gist of the various votes and political maneuvers. But most of us were not at the rallies or in the corridors of the State House, and we really have no idea the tensions, the fears and the excitement that surrounded all of it.

But Gozemba and Kahn were there, and in “Courting Equality” they paint us all sorts of pictures of people praying and singing and waiting and cheering. With some pretty adept storytelling, they bring recent history alive for all of us.

Looking ahead

The timing of “Courting Equality” couldn’t be better.

Not only have we just marked the third anniversary of the first same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, but we are headed into that second Constitutional Convention where the decision will be made on whether or not to put same-sex marriage to a popular vote.

Gozemba, Kahn and Humphries are watching and waiting and of course hoping that it doesn’t come down to that. Simply put, they say, it’s never a good idea to let the majority decide the rights of the minority.

Still, if it comes to that, all three women are braced for an onslaught of activists on both sides of the issue who will make Massachusetts the battleground state for equal marriage.

But now that “Courting Equality” is out on the shelves, will it change any minds or votes? Will all of the information and the personal anecdotes convince people that marriage is a basic right for everyone?

Former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, who is helping head up the Catholic contingent working to defeat same-sex marriage, says he hasn’t seen the book, but if someone sends him a copy he’ll give it a read. But ultimately, he doesn’t believe that marriage is a right and therefore doesn’t feel that denying anyone a marriage license would fall under the heading of discrimination.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, has heard of “Courting Equality” but hasn’t looked at it just yet. And he’s really dumbfounded as to why the press keeps calling marriage equality a civil rights issue. “Don’t you know the difference between a civil right and a privilege?” he asks.

And maybe that’s what makes “Courting Equality” and Gozemba and Kahn’s knack to take us into the heart of the equal marriage debate even timelier and more important. We get to go with them and discover that what wasn’t even an option to consider 17 years ago is now a reality that needs to be celebrated and protected.

“I just didn’t think it was possible,” says Gozemba. “This is an idea of equality that I never envisioned.”

Pat & Karen on NECN with Jim Braude