Vol. 25 No. 4 (April 2015) pp. 56-61

SECRETS AND LEAKS: THE DILEMMA OF STATE SECRECY by Rahul Sagar. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 2013. 304pp. Cloth $35.00. ISBN: 978-0-691-14987-5. E-book $35.00. ISBN: 978-1-400-84820-1.

Reviewed by Daniel Hoffman, retired from Johnson C. Smith University. Email: guayiya@bellsouth.net.

Rahul Sagar’s book is timely, in view of debates about alleged abuses connected with the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq, and the massive leaks by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. It is well-written and copiously footnoted, with an extensive bibliography of historical, legal and political science sources.

Sagar’s Introduction, Who Watches the Watchers, emphasizes the difficulty of designing an effective regulatory framework to prevent the abuse of state secrecy. “[S]o long as there is state secrecy, our ability to guard against its misuse depends not so much on the checks and balances established by the Constitution as on the virtues and vices of those men and women who secretly take the law into their own hands in order to either open our eyes or close our minds” (p. 7).

Though this statement discounts the importance of constitutional checks, Chapter 1, The Problem, places the Constitution at the heart of the dilemma. For Sagar, the crucial aspect of the Constitution is the sweeping powers it vests in the president, on whose virtue we must then depend.

To support the proposition that the Framers subscribed not to a “principle of disclosure” but instead to one of secrecy, Sagar cites “republican” writers from Renaissance Italy and the absolutist Stuart monarchy, who taught that the flourishing of a state in a world of international and domestic conflict depends on a regular and secure practice of secrecy. The capaciousness of his use of “republican” is evident in the book’s opening epigram—a quote from Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE. Machiavelli indeed taught that “virtu” was the prime ingredient for princely success, and the sole restraint on his actions. He returns on the final page, where Sagar exhorts us to “forgo platitudinous calls for ‘transparency’ and quixotic endeavors to tame ‘the prince’” (p. 204).


Vol. 25 No. 4 (April 2015) pp. 50-55


Reviewed by Joseph Fischel, Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program, Yale University. Email: joseph.fischel@yale.edu.

“‘Well, what’s Stonewall?’ Obama asked.” (p. 270)

The then candidate for the U.S. Senate posed this question to an aide in 2004, nearly ten years before he would assuredly tell the nation, in his second Presidential Inauguration speech, that equality is the “star that guides us … through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” a series of synecdoches placing gay rights on moral par with women’s rights and civil rights (pp. 313-314).

Marc Solomon’s WINNING MARRIAGE: THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW SAME-SEX COUPLES TOOK ON THE POLITICIANS AND PUNDITS—AND WON has little to do with the Stonewall Riots, and yet everything to do with the country’s about-face on same-sex marriage, a transformation in policy and public opinion so crisply captured by Obama’s “evolving” speech acts (pp. 280-300). The legislative, litigation, and ballot battles for marriage equality chronicled in WINNING MARRIAGE occur roughly between state senator Obama’s naïve question and President Obama’s defiant appeal for gay recognition. Solomon, former executive director of MassEquality, the foremost Massachusetts LGBT rights organization, and current national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, reports on the fight for marriage equality from the trenches: rural lesbians’ living rooms, state senate backrooms, steps of city halls, street protests. Adorably wonky and unexpectedly enthralling, WINNING MARRIAGE tells a tale of the same-sex marriage struggle too often drowned out by dominant narratives of big gay money, go-it-alone visionary attorneys, and salvation from enlightened judges. Solomon’s political memoir reminds us of the politics of marriage equality: with riveting prose, he relays the deal-making, pavement-pounding, and heart-changing all social movements must undertake for success. Although WINNING MARRIAGE was published before marriage was finally, federally “won” (OBERGEFELL V. HODGES 2015), the book is prescient, at once a social history of marriage equality and a blueprint for future (LGBT or not) justice organizing.

WINNING MARRIAGE is divided into five substantive parts. “Massachusetts” and “New York,” the first two, are the lengthiest and best sections of the book, detailing Solomon’s and his team of staffers, volunteers and lobbyists’ multi-pronged campaigns to legislatively secure marriage equality in the eponymous states. In part three, “Winning at the Ballot,” readers travel with Solomon and Freedom to Marry across four 2012 state ballot initiatives regarding marriage for same-sex couples. Marriage equality advocates score victories across the board, revitalizing the movement after its [*50] crushing 2008 defeat on Proposition 8 in California, the infamous ballot proposition which re-redefined marriage to exclude same-sex couples. The fourth part, “A Presidential Journey” tracks President Obama’s shifting opinion on and eventual championing of marriage equality, and evidences how critical (and steadfast) Solomon and other activists were in changing the avowed position of Obama and other top political leaders. The final and briefest part of the book, “Courting Justice,” contextualizes UNITED STATES V. WINDSOR and HOLLINGSWORTH V. PERRY, two 2013 landmark Supreme Court rulings for marriage equality (although OBERGEFELL and Obergefell may now be metonymies for the movement), within the panoply of ongoing public relations strategies, fundraising efforts, lower court victories, and grassroots organizing that culturally legitimated same-sex marriage as not merely justiciable ((cf. BAKER V. NELSON 1972) (“The appeal is dismissed for want of a federal question”)), but as a judicial no-brainer ((e.g., BASKIN V. BOGAN 2014) (“The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational…”)).