After years of struggle and frustration—including a close call in 2009—same sex couples gained the right to marry in New York State this past summer. The victory followed countless demonstrations, endless negotiating, the declared support of newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the powerful and courageous declaration of four Republican State Senators that they’d had a change of heart and would support the bill.
While many couples rushed to the altar, opponents of the marriage equality bill rushed to the courts to overturn the legislation. The suit recently passed its initial legal test, and the possibility remains that this hard won right may be taken away.
The snatching away of hard won rights—such as the right of same-sex couples to marry, the right to accessible and safe abortion, and the right to vote—is not without precedent in this country. Freedom and justice require constant vigilance. The fate of same-sex marriage in California serves as a perfect example, as depicted in the new picture book Operation Marriage, by Cynthis Chin-Lee, illustrated by Lea Lyon, and published by the northern California-based progressive publisher PM Press through its children’s imprint Reach and Teach.
When Alex’s best friend, Zach, tells her his parents won’t let him be friends anymore because her parents aren’t “married,” Alex and her younger brother, Nicky, decide that they must get married. In California in fall 2008, their Mama Kathy and Mama Lee still can marry, but with the rising fortunes of Proposition 8, the window is quickly closing. Alex and Nicky devise a series of clever ways to push their parents toward the altar, and they succeed a mere month before the proposition banning same-sex marriage passes. At school Alex shows the wedding photos to her classmates, and even Zach comes to recognize the joy of a wedding between two people who love each other.
Readers typically do not approach small-press-published “issue books” with high hopes for quality, but this picture book exposes the blind prejudice of that attitude. Operation Marriage is a well-constructed, age-appropriate story with an appealing cast of characters. Spunky Alex doesn’t let her best friend’s abandonment get her down; instead, she enlists her brother in a campaign that is filled with humor—blasting wedding music throughout the house, making a fake wedding program—things that will ring true to all children who’ve found creative ways to beg their parents to do something for them. The tactics escalate in emotional intensity, and the election serves as an effective “ticking clock.” Some of the aspects of the plot—such as the explanation for why Zach’s parents say he can’t play with Alex—will require some “reading between the lines.” The ending, when Zach and his mother bring brownies to Alex’s family after the wedding and the vote, may appear contrived but one can have an interesting discussion as to whether it is, in fact, contrived or a natural reaction of otherwise narrow-minded people who feel they can afford to be generous in victory. After all, minds can be changed, and some of the New York State legislators who voted against the 2009 bill were among its most vocal supporters in 2011.