The Case Against 8- dir Ben Cotner, Ryan White at Sundance
The Case Against 8 is an important film because of its subject matter, so it’s as difficult to find fault with it, as it is easy to be caught up in the emotional rollercoaster ride its participants are swept up on.
Just 6 months after California legalized same sex marriage, the ruling was over turned by Proposition 8, a motion brought about by out of state campaigns and advertising, which warned that homosexuality would be taught in schools and that churches would be forced to marry same sex couples. Inflammatory accusations were also raised, namely that same sex marriage would encourage pedophilia and threaten procreation [the main argument being that this is the sole purpose for marriage].
Chad Griffin and the Foundation for Equal Rights decided to challenge this ruling in the federal courts, choosing as their counsels, David Boise and Ted Olson, Democrat and Republican respectively and famous for opposing each other in the Bush vs. Gore presidential election. As plaintiffs the counsel select two gay couples, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, [who had their marriage annulled, via letter, as a result of prop 8] and Jeffrey Zarillo and Paul Katami, who chose to delay raising children until they could get legally married.
The documentary then acts as a fly on the wall as the fight is taken to the federal courts, part won, taken again and again to appeal by the defense until, many months later, prop 8 is finally declared ‘unconstitutional’ along with DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], which states that marriage is only between a man and a woman, effectively barring same sex couples from receiving marriage benefits in some states.
As it documents appeals and the see sawing between different courts, the film is a bit long in the tooth and plays out to some seriously sentimental music, which is a little unnecessary. But besides all the highs and lows and the investment the audience will make in the protagonists, there are some intellectual issues that steal the show. Little bits of wisdom fly out from Boise and Olson [‘in the end, over the Bush vs. Gore thing, we became friends because we shared the same passion, despite being on opposing sides’ [paraphrased]] Olson makes some terrific and rousing speeches and it’s his relationship with Boise which provides structure to the film. There’s also a nice moment when a witness for the defense is led gently by David Boise to become an advocate for their own counsel, and admits quite readily, he has changed his mind on same sex marriage. There’s also some serious talk on marriage and its purpose, which some may find engaging.
But as I was watching the end credits I had a few questions for the documentary filmmakers. What happened to hearing from the other side? Surely needed, for a balanced objective documentary. And I couldn’t help wondering, what about those same sex couples that are not middle class and can’t quite give voice to themselves in the same way the very safe plaintiffs could? I was already feeling that there was some exclusivity going on.
Despite these misgivings though, and the filmmakers intention to wring every last drop out of this subject matter, the film is highly enlightening, lucid and empowering. Not least because it sets the bar for all minorities who are rejected by any society that does not and will not accept them. And not least because, as Kris Perry suddenly realized on the witness stand, that ‘putting up’ and getting through [daily judgment and discrimination] was not good enough for her anymore. If other people’s bars in life were fulfillment or happiness, then why couldn’t hers? Why should she, like so many others, be prevented from something more than just ‘coping’ because of her sexual orientation?