Friday, December 5, 2014

Movie Review: The Case Against 8

The Case Against 8
Directed by: Ben Cotner & Ryan White.
Written by: Ben Cotner & Ryan White.

One of the bitter ironies of election night in 2008, is that while history was being made with Barack Obama’s election to the White House – something that would have been unthinkable, not all that long ago – was that while one historical prejudice was seemingly set aside (at least for one night), another prejudice was upheld. Proposition 8 in California was passed – which overturned its States’ Supreme Court ruling that allowed gay marriage to become legal – a decision that essentially annulled 18,000 marriages that had happened before it passed. A legal challenge was almost immediately launched on behalf of two couples – Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami and Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier. The two lawyers who represented the couples were surprising to many – Ted Olson and David Boies had already fought a famous Supreme Court Case – Bush v. Gore that settled the 2000 election – but on opposite sides. Boies taking the case made a lot of sense – a long time Democratic and progressive lawyer – but Olson shocked a lot of people. He was one of the most well-known Conservative lawyers in the country.

Ben Cotner and Ryan White’s The Case Against 8 sets out to tell the story of the long legal battle, which eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of America, where in a narrow 5-4 vote, Proposition 8 was overturned – essentially because the anti-marriage equality side could not prove they had standing in the case – that is, that they could not prove how they were injured or harmed by gay marriage.

The film follows the story, from the time the two lawyers take up the case right up until after the Supreme Court ruling. The filmmakers were obviously hurt by the fact that the court made a last minute decision to not allow cameras in the courtroom in the initial trial – the one where the couples themselves testified, as did the government experts – one of whom Boies seems to turn to his side right on the stand. It’s not nearly as dramatic to look at words on a page, while a disembodied voice reads it, as it would have been to see it happen live. But the filmmakers had little choice in that.

What they do very well is approach the material from two different viewpoints – when concentrating on Olson and Boies; the film is good at making the argument for marriage equality and the legal foundation for such recognition – essentially appealing to your mind. When it concentrates on the two couples, and their families, who fought hard and long, and who tell their stories, the movie is going directly for your heart – appealing to your emotions, which may not have any place in a courtroom, but is welcome in a documentary like this.

The movie doesn’t pretend to be fair or balanced – it doesn’t even detail the anti-marriage equality side of the argument – pretty much simply saying they don’t have one (which I agree with). It also makes the film less inflammatory than it otherwise may have been – it doesn’t shy away from showing the numerous protesters hold signs like “God Hates Fags” and other hateful garbage, but it doesn’t give them a platform to spout their hate speech either – not even for the purpose of mocking it. The title of the movie is, after all, The Case Against 8 – and that is what it shows. I don’t really have a problem with that.

The movie lacks suspense – obviously – since we all know how the case is going to turn out. But it’s an interesting documentary about how exactly they got to that Supreme Court case – one that affected not just the two couples in the film, but all gays and lesbians in California – and considering legal challenges across the country are using it as a basis to challenge the anti-marriage equality laws in their state – everyone in America. That change is a good thing – and this movie shows how America got that change.

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