After simmering at the state and federal level for a full decade, same-sex marriage is now very nearly a reality. In a year when it's likely to become a wedge issue in the presidential election, at least four new books and two reissues stand to benefit from the heightened attention to this legal and cultural battle. But will the front-page headlines drive readers to bookstores to find out more? PW surveyed the upcoming titles and checked in with booksellers around the country to find out.

A Shifting Legal Landscape

In 1993, Hawaii's Supreme Court was the first to rule that limiting marriage to heterosexuals was unconstitutional, though the state legislature later amended the state constitution to define marriage more clearly as a union between a man and a woman. Yet the original Hawaii decision so clearly predicted a new trend in gay rights activism that Congress felt the need to become involved. After a few years of debate, it passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, denying federal recognition to any civil marriages between same-sex partners that individual states may enact. But that didn't stop the lawsuits.

When the Vermont Supreme Court declared in 1999 that denying homosexuals the right to civil marriage was unconstitutional, the legislature invented the new category of civil unions, which grant same-sex couples all of the legal rights that Vermont has bestowed upon heterosexual couples. However, the rights exist only within the state and are not recognized by any other state.

Last November, the battle at the state level took a dramatic turn when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it was discriminatory not to allow same-sex couples to marry and gave the state legislature 180 days to prepare to grant same-sex marriages. After the state's House of Representatives questioned whether civil unions could serve in the place of same-sex marriage, the court issued an advisory ruling earlier this month that civil unions would not suffice, as they would constitute a "separate but equal" category. Two weeks ago, three different amendments to the state's constitution that would define marriage as a "union between a man and a woman" all failed to pass by slim margins. So come May 18, town clerks in Massachusetts will be issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

That precipitous move has prompted new legal action in other areas. In San Francisco, the town clerk has issued marriage licenses to about 2500 same-sex couples since Valentine's Day on the orders of newly elected mayor Gavin Newsom. Although California law stipulates that only a man and a woman can be married, Newsom claimed that it's a violation of the city's anti-discrimination law not to marry same-sex couples. And at the federal level, President Bush's advisers are asserting that he will imminently endorse a constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is "a sacred union between a man and a woman"—ensuring that the issue will remain heated for the foreseeable future.

Here Come the Books

The first of the season's same-sex marriage titles is an account of Vermont's judicial and legislative drama, Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage (Harcourt, Feb. 2; $25). Written by David Moats, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorials at the Rutland (Vt.) Herald, it's an insightful cultural history enlivened by well-rendered characters, sweeping events and a clearly argued pro—gay-marriage agenda. While the recent ruling in Massachusetts has helped draw mainstream attention to Moats's book—the New York Times Book Review recently ran a positive review and the author appeared on NPR's Fresh Air—the gay press has covered it more intensely, according to Harcourt publicity manager Evan Boorstyn.

Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated of the forthcoming books is Evan Wolfson's Why Marriage Matters (S&S, June; $23), which draws on the author's experience as an activist lawyer to argue that gay marriage is a legal and ethical necessity as well as a social good. Nationally famous for his role in helping to craft the Hawaii case, Wolfson has made numerous appearances as a talking head on TV and in national print news coverage of the same-sex marriage issue in the past few months. He's likely to garner major publicity for the hardcover, which has a planned first printing of 50,000 copies and will be supported by a six-city tour.

Syndicated columnist Jonathan Rauch also offers pro-gay advocacy in Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights and Good for America (Henry Holt/Times Books, Apr.; $22). The twist is that Rauch is an openly gay conservative, noted for distancing himself from the more liberal gay activist establishment and appealing to "traditional values." While his argument is not likely to stir up a large base of conservative readers (it will be excerpted in the April issue of the Atlantic Monthly), Rauch's reputation and arguments may appeal more to a mainstream heterosexual readership than a progressive gay and lesbian base.

That's not likely to be the case with Devina Kotulski's Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage (Alyson, Apr.). Aimed at convincing lesbian and gay readers that traditional marriage is a vital civil rights issue, this $12.95 paperback original may draw the attention of members of the more radical wing of the gay and lesbian movement more easily now that same-sex marriage battles are in full swing.

Because so much of the public debate about same-sex marriage revolves around the insistence that "children need a mother and a father," Abigail Garner's Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell it Like It Is (HarperCollins, Apr.; $24.95) may also become part of the debate. Written by the heterosexual daughter of two gay fathers, Garner offers humorous and poignant insights not only into the joys and complexities of gay families, but the hardships the children in particular endure because of social resistance to their parents' union.

Several older titles are also getting a facelift. Beacon Press is reissuing the $15 paperback edition of E.J. Graff's critically praised What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution (1999) with a new introduction by Village Voice editor-in-chief Richard Goldstein. While not specifically focused on same-sex marriage, Graff's cultural history has been cited in nearly every legal brief filed in defense of gay marriage. Vintage Books will also reissue a revised edition of Andrew Sullivan's Gay Marriage: Pro and Con (1997), an anthology of political opinion columns, excerpts from legal briefs and other original documents representing both sides of the debate.

Do You Take This Title...?

Around the country, booksellers are responding to the tide of titles with varying enthusiasm, based largely on how much attention the issue is drawing in their state. At Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, a gay and lesbian and neighborhood bookstore in Atlanta, Ga., where the state legislature is currently voting on amending the state's constitution to recognize only marriages between a man and a woman, owner Philip Rafshoon is optimistic about the forthcoming books. He has already sold 18 copies of Moats's Civil Wars—a large number for the store—alongside bestselling political titles by Michael Moore, Al Franken and Molly Ivins.

"The landscape is changing by the hour and a lot of our patrons are energized politically," Rafshoon said. Noting that books about such issues as the separation of church and state have also been on an upswing, he posited that they may be attracting readers who are interested in gay politics, especially same-sex marriage. "People are looking not only for direction, but to grow and cement their ideas about these topics," he said.

At Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo.—a general-interest store with a large gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) section—owner Kris Kleindienst said that although same-sex marriage is big national news, she has not seen an increase in interest in books about any gay civil rights. "Most of our larger GLBT sales are geared to entertainment books or popular memoirs," she said, noting that David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked (both from Back Bay Books) are bestsellers, as is Augusten Burroughs's Running with Scissors (Picador). Though Kleindienst plans to put the new same-sex marriage books in the "new arrivals" section for a few weeks, she said they are likely to wind up on the gay and lesbian shelves.

At Chicago's Unabridged Books, a general store with a large GLBT section, owner Ed Devereaux intends to order all of the political titles about gay marriage, though he doesn't expect them to fly out the door. When it comes to books about current events, "people get what they need from television and magazines, though some also turn to books as well," he said. His store tends to do better with serious gay and lesbian nonfiction, such as The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government by David K. Johnson (Univ. of Chicago) and Graham Robb's Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century (Norton), he added.

It's becoming a truism that fast-breaking, major news stories don't necessarily generate enormous book sales, although they often raise vital issues that touch people's lives. But with grassroots and legislative initiatives to define marriage as a heterosexual institution coming up for votes in 15 states this year, and the election season still in its early stages, there will be plenty of time for these books to find their audiences. As Rafshoon put it, "Many people know what they think about same-sex marriage, but serious readers are always looking to books to rethink how they view the world."