Book Reviews

Reviews of Accidental Activists 

Foreword Reviews:

“…Collins shows that change, even of the smallest kind, comes at the cost of great dedication and even greater love…”

It took four decades of lawyers, litigation, LGBTQ activists, and patient, persistent engagement to legalize gay marriage. “Accidental Activists” documents part of this struggle through the efforts of one gay couple to realize their dream of equality. Including wonderful color photos, copies of letters from President Barack Obama and former Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as court transcripts and personal interviews, Accidental Activists is an important record of a key time in American history.

Collin’s book emphasizes the significance of the fight for marriage equality. Though it is an institution with spiritual roots, marriage is legislated by the government, all while remaining an emotional, personal, and legal commitment. Marriage creates family of choice, Collins shows, not blood. Historically, LGBTQ people have been denied this basic right, as well as the benefits that come with it: inheritance and child custody laws, end of life wishes, health decisions and privacy, and property ownership, among them.

Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes went to bat for marriage equality in Texas, which isn’t known for its progressive, inclusive views. Phariss described politics in Texas as “a blood sport.” The couple’s anxiety as they pushed for gay marriage was influenced by threats and acts of violence: “One extremist … had decided he was going to ‘fix’ all this with his long-shot rifle.”

Collins painstakingly records the men’s experiences, from the sensational to the mundane. His research, which includes extensive interviews with Phariss and Holmes, cuts deep into the subject material. Accidental Activists quickly becomes a story of more than just two men, with significance beyond the state of Texas.

This book is the universe in a grain of sand: an incredible, detailed, humane account of one couple’s activism for same-sex marriage. The exhaustive account is an invaluable resource for LGBTQ history, policy changes, and Supreme Court decisions. Most importantly, Collins emphasizes that gay marriage is only the beginning—and that change, even of the smallest kind, comes at the cost of great dedication and even greater love.

–Claire Foster (University Press 2017)

Dale Carpenter:

“…this beautifully written book will memorialize that the struggle was indeed essential in a place like Texas…”

Accidental Activists” is the story of two men who did the extraordinary in order to live a life of the ordinary. Their story is a microcosm of a movement: the pain of growing up gay, the humiliation of the closet, the discovery of the inner strength necessary to come out, the wonder of falling in love, and finally the refusal to acquiesce in their second-class status. Future generations will marvel that the struggle for marriage equality was ever even necessary, but this beautifully written book will memorialize that the struggle was indeed essential in a place like Texas in the early part of the 21st-century.”

–Dale Carpenter

Dale is a Professor of Law at the Dedman School of Law (Southern Methodist University) is a frequent legal commentator and author of Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas (Norton, 2013).

Betty DeGeneres:

“…delighted that their inspirational story has been recorded in a book that will keep you turning the pages…”

“Back in 1997 I was lucky enough to be in San Antonio for an HRC event. Little did I know that Mark and Vic would be on their first date that night – and would come to that event where I would meet them. Little did I know that years later they would make history by fighting for same-sex marriage to be legal in Texas. This beautiful book by Dave Collins tells the story of their struggle to make that happen. I’m so proud of them, so happy for them—and delighted that their inspirational story has been recorded in a book that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.”

–Betty DeGeneres

Betty is the mother of Ellen, was the first straight spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Project. She is the author of two books: Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey (It Books, 2000) and Just a Mom (Alyson Books, 2001).

Chad Griffin:

“…We must learn from the brave champions of equality…”

Accidental Activists, Dave Collins’ moving story about Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes’ fight for marriage equality in Texas is both captivating and heartwarming. Throughout the LGBTQ rights movement, we have seen “accidental activists” – ordinary Americans who have witnessed injustice under the law and made the decision to fight for their rights in the face of injustice. We must learn from the brave champions of equality whose stories and personal sacrifices have made all the difference – not just in Texas, but for all LGBTQ Americans.”

–Chad Griffin

President of the Human Rights Campaign

George Hodgman:

“…Collins movingly captures the two men’s lifelong struggles…”

“This is the best book on the hugely important topic of gay marriage that I have encountered. The courtroom scenes—beautifully rendered, stirring, enlivened by the novelistic revelation of character—are simply superb and brilliantly handled. I was riveted by the explanations of precedents, accounts of legal tactics, and descriptions of lawyerly performances. Collins movingly captures the two men’s lifelong struggles with shame and self-loathing and, finally, the personal triumph of their confronting the public to claim their right to love in the country they love.”

–George Hodgman

George is the author of Bettyville (Penguin Books, 2015)

Roberta Kaplan:

“…Reading this book … was (almost) as much fun as doing the argument myself…”

“I am always anxious when I read accounts of events that I have experienced personally. But from the first page, David Collins’ Accidental Activists alleviated my fears. The story of Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes, who led the battle for marriage equality in Texas as plaintiffs, remains as true and compelling today as when it happened in real life. And I know since I was there for at least some of it. Reading this book, particularly the description of the court hearing at the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, was (almost) as much fun as doing the argument myself.”

–Roberta Kaplan

Roberta Kaplan & Company, LLP, , a new, innovative law firm dedicated to high-stakes commercial litigation and serving the public interest, and an adjunct professor of law at Columbia University Law School. Until July 2017, she was a partner in the Litigation Department of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.  She is the author of Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA (Norton, 2015).

Andy Cohen:

“…a well-written and moving book about the deeply personal story…”

Accidental Activists is a well-written and moving book about the deeply personal story behind two of the heroes of the marriage equality movement!”

–Andy Cohen

Andy is the host of Watch What Happens Live and author of several books, including The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015).