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Elizabeth Birch Headshot

Why I Find Andrew Sullivan to Be Insufferable

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Andrew Sullivan is getting a lot of play from his latest rant against an author's (in this case Jo Becker's) failure to bow down to Sullivan's runaway case of "GGS" (Gay Grandiosity Syndrome). This is a term I coined to describe particularly annoying self-righteous behavior. While it is true that the struggle for marriage equality predates the Proposition 8 case and its aftermath, it also predates Andrew Sullivan. When Sullivan was still attached at the breast to Margaret Thatcher, young gay couples here in the U.S. were seeking justice in places like Minnesota and Hawai'i in the early 1970s. Sullivan takes special pride in completely distorting the history of the Human Rights Campaign, while embellishing his own role in U.S. LGBT history. (Did anyone else notice no less that four of Sullivan's books are pushed in the opening paragraphs of his diatribe against the Prop 8 team? So much for collective credit.)

Here is what really happened. In the beginning marriage was created as a way for men to track offspring and property. Ok, that was cynical. Flash forward to U.S. history circa early 1970s. A few gay couples (against the advice and counsel of the LGBT Legal organizations like Lambda Legal Defense) sought licenses in their home states. It is true that Dan Foley, a heterosexual Buddhist lawyer in Hawai'i took up the first major case that ripened about the time I became head of the Human Rights Campaign. (Andrew, that would be 1995, not the early 2000s.) Because I had run away to Hawai'i as a young lesbian teen (I put myself through University of Hawai'i studying Oceanography, Political Science and Hawaiian was my undergraduate language) and because the HRC team understood that modern Hawai'i had a unique history of valuing equality (Hawai'i was the first state, for example, to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment), we believed we had a reasonable chance of success at achieving the right for same gender couples to acquire a civil marriage license. No work had been done to prepare the Hawai'i voters. We spent some $1.7 million on the campaign to stop a state constitutional ban -- and got slaughtered. (In the same year, Alaska spent next to nothing and got equally slaughtered.) During the heat of the campaign when we badly needed resources, I asked Andrew to help us raise money. He agreed and then promptly raised not a dime.

My other memory of Andrew Sullivan -- besides the period when he became the Prime Cheerleader for the Iraq War -- was appearing with him on the Larry King Live Show. When asked whether he would choose to be gay, dripping in Catholic Conservative guilt, he said: "Who would choose to be gay?" I quickly spoke up brightly and said: "I would choose to be gay. It is a gift."

If we are going to talk about LGBT history and the true heros of marriage equality, remember these names: Henry the Eighth who made it popular -- and then: Evan Wolfson, Mary Bonauto (our Thurgood Marshall), Edie Windsor, Thea Spyer, Robbie Kaplan, and, yes, the entire Prop 8 team. Why? Because when everyone was screaming "NO", they said "YES" and fought their way through to a victory for the State of California. It is true that the Windsor case has had a far more profound impact in terms of actual jurisprudence in this nation, but any effort is of more value than a single one of Andrew Sullivan's self-righteous rants.