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A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR • The riveting story of the conflict over same-sex marriage in the United States—the most significant civil rights breakthrough of the new millennium

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.

Explore the History


“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.” 
—The Guardian

“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.” —Frank Bruni

“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." —Booklist

“A definitive portrait of a key victory in the battle for LGBTQ rights."
Publishers Weekly

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June 1, 2021

ISBN 978-1524748739

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