Friday, June 13, 2014

"The Case Against 8": Marriage equality in California

The Case Against 8”, directed by Ryan White and Ben Cotner, is a comprehensive history of the litigation against California Proposition 8 in federal court.
As the film opens, Barack Obama is winning the general election in November 2008.  While much of the gay community celebrates that win,  a ballot initiative to define marriage as only between one man and one woman passes (narrowly) in California.

Four plaintiffs (a lesbian couple, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and a male couple, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarillo, join in a suit, which would become known as Hollingsworth v. Perry (link).  They hire Ted Olson, who had actually worked most of his career as a conservative lawyer (particularly for the GOP in Bush v. Gore in 2000) as well as David Boles.  Some of the film deals with the controversy over Olson’s seeming “change of heart”, where he can defend gay marriage as a conservative cause.
Judge Walker ruled for the plaintiffs in August 2010.  The proponents of Prop 8 wanted the judge to vacate himself because he was gay himself.  Eventually, the Ninth Circuit would hear oral arguments in December 2010, about the same time that the final legislative repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was gathering steam and getting passed. 

The film moves to the oral arguments before the Supreme Court, in late March 2013, the day after ironically the largest snow of the season.  Perry’s sons, a couple of them now grown and in college, appear, as they do later at the wedding ceremony.  The film covers DOMA briefly, and then explains that the Proposition 8 challenge is thrown out for lack of standing.  That is, proponents of Prop 8 could not show how they were harmed!

The film shows how the arguments originally used to support the referendum were turned on their heads.  Plaintiffs wonder why they have to apologize for themselves to gain equal benefits.  Supporters of Prop 8 make arguments about what is good for children, without considering children raised by same-sex couples, or the reality that in life people often have to raise other people’s children (like other siblings’ children after family tragedies, as in the show “Summerland”).  The whole idea of volunteerism and “giving back” is more problematic without equality.  Yet, in earlier times, even I had suggested that the benefits of “marriage” ought to be given only when there are children or other dependents.

The film is shown this week at the West End Cinema in Washington DC.  The filmmakers and the female couple were present for QA.  The theater manager conducted the session, and asked that comments be phrased as a question.  The show did not sell out, which surprised me.

The official site is here

HBO will show the film on June 23. 

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