By Terri Schlichenmeyer, August 2015 Issue.

Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial by Kenji Yoshino. Crown, 2015 | $26

Third finger, left hand. If you’re wearing a ring there, chances are that it means more than a bit of metal around your digit. It’s undoubtedly more precious than the sum of its parts.

It means a commitment of marriage – that is, if you can get married, because some still cannot. And, in the new book Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial by Kenji Yoshino, you’ll read about a trial that impacted many an engagement.

Just before Yoshino married his husband, Ron, in 2009, the officiant pulled the couple aside and reminded them that, though they were really no different than any other two people in love, he could not marry them under federal law because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

As they said their vows in Connecticut, another legal drama on the other side of the country was just beginning…

Only four states recognized same-sex marriage then; California wasn’t one of them. In 2008, that state’s voters passed Proposition 8, effectively amending its constitution to allow legal marriage between opposite-sex couples only.

A legal challenge to Prop 8 was filed in California in May of 2009, which ultimately opened the doors for an unlikely pair of lawyers to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court: Attorney Ted Olson was famous for helping to put George Bush in office in 2000, and had worked in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department.

Though Olson was known for his conservative stance, he was friends with David Boies, a renowned, more liberal litigator. They seized the opportunity to argue this important case together, and began laying the foundation for it.

But their unusual pairing wasn’t the only uniqueness in Hollingsworth v. Perry: The judge assigned to the case was known to be gay. Lead counsel for defense of Prop 8 had once flirted with a professional baseball career. Both sides tried to keep direct mentions of sex out of the courtroom. In the end, children played a large part.

And, though neither side wanted it, the case went to trial.

That last point, Yoshino writes, came as the biggest surprise. Issues such as same-sex marriage very seldom go to trial; both parties usually try to avoid it long before things ever get that far.

But Yoshino’s fascination – and the in-depth examination he offers on Hollingsworth v. Perry – becomes a mixed bag in Speak Now. On one hand, there are heartfelt examples of people who would most benefit from the defeat of Prop 8, as told from the exciting perspective of a major courtroom drama; on the other hand, there’s a lot of legalese here that is only partially explained in layman’s terms. We’re treated to detailed, sometimes happy, human-interest stories (including the authors’ own), followed by information that will send many readers scrambling for a legal dictionary. Oy.

Still, despite that near-obstacle, I think this book is worthwhile – if nothing other than the significance of the historic case it highlights. But, if you read carefully, don’t rush yourself and have a legal reference source handy, Speak Now is an insightful look at a topic that belongs in the history books.

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Photo courtesy of Michael Feinstein.

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