Category Archives: Reviews

Book Recounts Marriage Fight in Massachusetts

    Cynthia Laird of the Bay Area Reporter makes the connection between our struggle in Massachusetts for marriage equality and the continuing struggle in California. She sees Courting Equality as a way for gay marriage advocates to share strategies that worked and to take heart that full equality is not just a hope. Laird is particularly impressed with the photographic work of Marilyn Humphries. Read on . . . 

Bay Area Reporter
Published 07/12/2007
by Cynthia Laird
With the marriage equality battle heating up in California, same-sex couples and others might want to check out Courting Equality , a coffee-table book that recounts the battle for gay marriage in Massachusetts.

Released in May to coincide with the three-year anniversary of legal marriage in Massachusetts, Courting Equality (Beacon Press, $34.95) contains more than 100 photos by photographer Marilyn Humphries, with a detailed history by co-authors and spouses Patricia A. Gozemba and Karen Kahn.

In a telephone interview last week, Gozemba, 66, said that she and Kahn, 51, were familiar with Humphries’s photography work well before embarking on the collaboration. But it was a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Evelyn White, who suggested that they do a book, she said.

“The photos were at the heart of the whole thing,” Gozemba said. “Marilyn’s been in Boston for the last 27 years, documenting our community.” More

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Susan Jacobs recommends Courting Equality in the Jewish Journal

Three local women have collaborated to create a comprehensive book that traces the gay marriage movement in Massachusetts. “Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages” was released on the third anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts.

Written by Salem activists Pat Gozemba and Karen Kahn, with pictures by Beverly-based photojournalist Marilyn Humphries, the work follows the gay struggle for social justice in the Bay State.

The candid photographs by Humphries, whose freelance work has appeared in the New York Times, Bay Windows and the Boston Phoenix, among other publications, form the backbone of the book. The eloquent prose provides context and background. Presented together, the pictures and text paint a passionate portrait of a milestone event that changed the course of history in Massachusetts.

The glossy, large format book aptly captures the steely determination and ultimate jubilation experienced by those most intimately involved in the battle to bring equal civil rights to same-sex couples.

“Courting Equality” focuses primarily on the seven same-sex couples, known as the Goodridge plaintiffs, who got the ball rolling in April 2001, by suing the Department of Public Health for the right to marry. The writers interviewed all the couples, as well as other key players in the battle. Humphries, who spent several years on the front line with her camera, captured the passion and outrage of supporters on both sides of the contentious issue.

While “Courting Equality” has a more limited audience than a pictorial retrospective on the work of Picasso, which your average heterosexual household would probably rather have on the coffee table anyway, that shouldn’t diminish the value of this important book. Gozemba, Kahn and Humphries have created an historically accurate work that should be included in every library.

For those who may not remember, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted equal marriage benefits to same-sex couples in a landmark decision November 18, 2003. With the ruling, the Bay State became the only one in the union to recognize and legally sanction the right of homosexuals to marry. City and town officials began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples May 17, 2004.

Kahn and Gozemba personally hold one of the 9,700 same-sex marriage licenses that have been issued in Massachusetts since the law went into effect three years ago. The interfaith couple wed in September 2005 at Cambridge City Hall.

Kahn and Gozemba were not surprised that Massachusetts was the first state to legally sanctify same-sex marriage. “Massachusetts has strong civil rights traditions. It was the first place to abolish slavery,” pointed out Kahn.

“Marriage was not a top priority for us,” admitted the 51-year-old Kahn, who works as communications director for a non-profit health care organization. “But seeing the reaction of the Right Wing, the Catholic Church, and our Mormon governor made me aware that we suffered from an oppression that we weren’t even aware of.”

“Marriage is the primary institution of social order in our country. It’s the way all benefits, such as pensions and social security, flow to people. We must have access to this,” said Gozemba, who is 62.
Gozemba, a former professor of English and Women’s Studies, likens the struggle to the one fought by blacks decades ago. “We do not want to drink from the ‘gay’ water fountain. Separate but equal is not good enough,” she said.

To change the law on a federal level, she believes individual states must be targeted. “African Americans worked state-by-state for integration of the schools. By the time the issue got to federal court, it was already law in many areas. We must follow the same strategy,” Gozemba said.

Gozemba thinks progress is being made. “Ten states currently recognize gay relationships; seven of them offer marriage or civil union by one name or another. But we have a mishmash of recognitions — marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships. It’s uneven and unclear from state to state,” she said.

Kahn and Gozemba point out that concerns that gay marriage might destroy the ‘traditional family unit’ have proven unfounded. “No one’s heterosexual marriage has been damaged as a result of the ruling, and Massachusetts continues to have the lowest divorce rate in the United States,” Gozemba said.

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.”

Chuck Colbert from In Newsweekly praises Courting Equality, 5.18.07

For more than twenty years Marilyn Humphries, a local freelance photographer whose images have occasionally graced the pages of this very paper, has stood near the front lines of the lesbian and gay liberation and civil-rights movement. From the Dukakis-era gay foster parenting flap to his signing the state’s gay civil rights law, from the AIDS/HIV epidemic to the lesbian baby boom – and much more – her steady hands and patiently sharp eye for details have produced marvelous photography.

Her works put a face on both activist and ordinary GLBT people, our history and humanity, and her contribution in rendering permanent images of gay-rights progress is priceless and the inspiration of a new book, “Courting Equality,” which zooms in on a big battle – preserving same-sex marriage in the only state where gays can legally wed.

Patricia A. Gozemba and Karen Kahn provide the text for this wonderful 190-page documentary chronicling a juggernaut journey over boulevards and main streets, by-ways and side streets, all along the road to marriage equality. The text is lively storytelling at its best, a thoroughly delightful and short read. A major strength of the book is the authors’ inclusion of historical background, contexts and milestones, detailing a constantly changing cultural and political landscape, all of which helped set the stage for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) landmark Goodridge decision, legalizing gay marriage in the commonwealth and ushering it into the American experience.

“Courting Equality” documents quite convincingly that same-sex, civil-marriage rights resulted partly from a mix of local, regional, and national, if not global, political and legal developments, as well as unrelenting grass-roots advocacy for full marriage and family equality. In Massachusetts, some of those achievements include passage of the 1989 Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Law, a 1993 SJC court ruling in favor of second parent adoptions, and a masterfully strategic blocking, in 2002, of a proposed gay marriage ballot question. Senate presidential leadership and savvy procedural tactics killed that measure then, but did not curtail gay marriage detractors’ zeal to write discrimination into the world’s oldest living Constitution.

Meanwhile, hot off a partial legal victory of Vermont’s civil unions, lawyers at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders filed, on April 11, 2001, a lawsuit that wound its way through state courts, ultimately resulting in the SJC’s 4-3 ruling in Goodridge on Nov. 18, 2003.

That ruling set the commonwealth and nation on a roller coaster ride – political, legal and highly personal – lasting until the first day gay and lesbian couples could legally marry on May 17, 2004.

Readers should fasten their seat belts as the text and photographs help them traverse, like an efficient all-terrain vehicle, the hills and valleys of an exhilarating six months. The whole world watched as Massachusetts’ lawmakers deliberated with passion and reason, the phenomenon of gayness, same-sex love, commitment, and family life – and the pursuit of happiness, with no gay exception to the “vital social institution” of civil marriage.

At this juncture, the focus of “Courting Equality,” in words and pictures. is poignantly clear and sharp. A reader meets the plaintiff couples, their legal counsel, marriage-equality activists and lobbyists, and religious and social conservative detractors.

Readers also meet pro-equality religious leaders, state lawmakers, any number of whom in their own right is a profile in courage. From gays who legally wed, their personal story telling, to legislators’ speaking of their own conversions of heart and mind, the advent and legacy of same-sex marriage, now three years old and more than 8,500 couples strong, proves that opening up civil marriage to same-sex couples is not only for them, but also the commonwealth.

“Courting Equality” is a book for anyone interested in understanding the hopeful dignity and courageous integrity of gays who seek the right to civil marriage and in learning how straight allies, by the thousands, have joined their cause. In reading the book, same-sex marriage detractors may find a useful vehicle to travel well beyond moralistic rhetoric, gross hyperbole, and rigid religious orthodoxy, both doctrine and dogma, that far too often blurs an ability for some to see gay people, the other, as fully human persons. When gays can legally wed here and now, the skies really are much bluer. That reality is at the heart of the “Courting Equality” message. •

For gay marriage boosters, to read “Courting Equality” is a literary experience of sheer ecstasy, a brief pause of unbridled joy in the ongoing – and by no means over – struggle to preserve and protect same-sex marriage. It’s a delightful sneak peak over the rainbow.

BostonNOW Weighs In

Chronicling the battle for romantic rights
Same-sex marriage in words, photos
John Black, jblack@bostonnow.com
 
Sometimes, we are told, things happen for a reason. In the case of authors Patricia Gozemba and Karen Kahn and photographer Marilyn Humphries, they happened for a very good reason.

“For a long time I’d known about Marilyn’s work as a photojournalist covering a number of progressive causes,” Gozemba said. “I always felt that what she was doing would make a great book, but she said she didn’t have the time to write one because she was so busy. That’s where Karen and I stepped in.”
The result of the collaboration of these three women is Courting Equality, A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages, now available from Beacon Press.

The book uses words and images to tell the story of the battle for gay marriage in Massachusetts, from early efforts by LGBT activists for family and parenting rights to May 17, 2004 at 12:01 a.m., when Susan Shepard and Marcia Ham were issued the first legal same-sex marriage in the country.
“There was a wealth of material to draw from, but it was still a challenge to find the right tone for the stories we wanted to tell,” Gozemba said. “We never wanted to come across as preaching to people because that could drive them away. We didn’t want it to be cold, either, because, after all, it’s a story about love as much as politics.”

Now that the book is done and on the shelves, the ladies are rolling up their collective sleeves and getting to work making sure the message of the book gets out where people can read it.

“We’ve had great success from people and organizations who already support the cause of same-sex marriage,” Gozemba said. “Now we want to make sure everyone else reads it, too.”

Courting Equality book launch, Wed., May 16, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Cambridge YWCA.