For those of you who don’t keep up with the gay rights struggle in the US, in November 2008 a measure was put on the California ballot – Proposition 8 – that sought to add to the state’s constitution that marriage should be solely between one man and one woman. It was particularly contentious as for several months gay marriage had been legal in California, meaning that when the electorate voted for Prop 8, 1000s of same sex marriages were suddenly invalidated.
The Case Against 8 follows what happened after that, when it was decided that the best way forward to ensure marriage equality was legal in the most populous US State was to launch a court case that would seek to find Prop 8 as being against the overall US Constitution.
It’s a truly fascinating story, with the sorts of twists and oddities that if this were a Hollywood movie you would assume they were over-the-top film embellishments. For example the man who agrees to head up the fight against Prop 8 was lawyer Ted Olson, a man reviled by many liberals for being the guy who successfully led the court cases that made George W. Bush President. The staunch Republican is the last person you would think would want to be the legal face of gay marriage, but it turns out it’s something he truly believes in.
The doc follows the process of finding the plaintiffs – who had to be squeaky clean so that the only thing they could be attacked for was being same sex couples who wanted to get married – and then into the California courts and finally to the US Supreme Court.
It’s an extremely well made and often moving documentary, which takes you through the issues as well as the people involved. That includes the surprisingly affable Olson, as well as the plaintiffs – Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier (along with their four kids), as well as the extremely sweet Jeffrey Zarillo and Paul Katami. The documentary does a great job of making the court case – officially known as Perry vs. Schwarzenegger – both extremely personal and also showing how it fits into the grand sweep of the gay rights struggles in the US.
There are some truly fascinating sections, such as the main expert arguing against gay marriage in court having a ‘Perry Mason’ moment on the stand where he ended up agreeing with the plaintiff’s side, and a wonderfully Hollywood moment right at the end where the California Attorney General has to step in to avoid a last minute hiccough. It really does play out like a movie, to the point where I was wondering why Tinsel Town isn’t busy adapting it into a film. And of course that means there’s a big emotional ending that even the hard-hearted will find moving.
Overall Verdict: If you’re even vaguely interested in the fight for marriage equality in the US, this is a great watch. It really does feel like a Hollywood movie, with all the twists and turns that implies.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac