Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality – Debbie Cenziper & Jim Obergefell (William Morrow)

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We’ll occasionally break from our mission of reviewing independent press releases to cover something queer from a major publisher, so when I received the press release promoting the paperback edition  of Love Wins, I eagerly emailed for a review copy. I don’t get the opportunity to review as much non-fiction as I’d like, so this seemed a natural. And, indeed, the book is a clear, concise, obviously heartfelt account of the Obergefell marriage equality case, certainly worth a read. However, this edition settled on me differently than the hardback release might have.

Cenziper does an admirable job of encapsulating not only the story of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur’s relationship but the background of civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein and what made him so passionate about the case in question. Along the way, Cenziper paints deft little portraits of the minor players as well and has truly taken to heart Gerhardstein’s adage that in order to have a case, you need a story. Plus, this has courtroom drama. How could you not love courtroom drama? Those scenes are among the best in the book.

What the hell is my problem, then?

The question for me is one of timing. Releasing this book in the T—p era shrouds it in a thick cloud of irony, refocusing its look-how-far-we’ve-come to look-how-much-we-have-to-lose, especially with an increasingly conservative Supreme Court itching to overturn the very gain this book is about. The story is compelling enough to survive scrutiny through that different lens, and the telling of the story is flawless, but the end result–the feeling I got as I turned the last page–was one of sad nostalgia rather than hopeful optimism. I laughed. I cried. But not for the reasons or maybe even in the places the author had intended.

Unfortunately, we no longer live in a world where love consistently wins. Perhaps we never did. Love has historically had an uphill struggle, but it used to win more than it seems to now. In the eight years I’ve been writing this blog (one on hiatus), many of the books I’ve reviewed have made me cry, but not with the sense of longing and regret that this one did.

Can I recommend it? Sure. It’s highly readable, and the narrative is well-constructed. The characterizations are well-done, and the prose is clear and explains some complicated legal questions quite well. I can’t, however, guarantee what mood it will leave you in. Maybe you’re farther along in your grief process than I am. Maybe you think we have nothing to grieve for. Maybe you don’t connect the two. But I don’t think I’m alone. If I am, we’re in more trouble than I thought.


© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler


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