The Case Against 8
Review by Mark Schwab
One of the hottest tickets at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival (and debuting on HBO this summer), "The Case Against 8" details the 5-year legal battle over Proposition 8 - a California law passed by voters which stated that only a marriage between a man and woman will be considered legal. This battle would eventually be waged at the highest levels of our judicial system.
Told in a linear fashion, this doc begins in 2008 when the LGBT community of California was devasted by the passage of Prop 8. Fueled by an expensive marketing maching which included the Mormon church, the anti-gay marriage groups were able to sway enough voters to garner a majority and pass the law.
Almost immediately, though, the pro-gay marriage camp gets galvanized and begins the long struggle though district courts, state supreme courts, circuit courts and finally all the way to the Supreme Court.
Since this is techinically a historical documentary and all of the events presented here are a matter of public record, you'd think it would be devoid of suspense. After all, unless you've been living under a rock (or watch nothing but Fox News), you know how this all ends.
Which makes it even more impressive that by the end, I had a tear in my eye by the time the final ruling is shown being handed down. But to say that this doesn't cover any new ground would be wrong. For one, we really learn how a legal case is built from the ground up. It is so much more than just lawyers arguing before a judge. The enormous amount of work and legal acumen required is astonishing and this doc meticulously shows how this most impressive machine operates. We also get to go inside the lives of Paul Katani and Jeff Zarillo, and Kris Perry and Sandy Stier - the two couples specifically drafted by the lawyers to be the face of all same-sex relationships seeking equality. You can see why these two couples were chosen as no rational person can view their lives and say they are "less than" their heterosexual counterparts in supporting and building a life together (including children in the case of Perry and Stier).
Directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White knew they were making an important film for the history books and it shows in the dazzling documetary filmmaking executed here. Of course this is told exclusively from the pro gay marriage side but that does not diminish the movie. To have given more credence to the hatred these folks certainly must have endured during this process (there is a brief mention of some threatening phone calls) would have been out of place here. It was a much better decision to document clearly, definitively and compellingly the legal team that dismantled Prop 8 brick by bigoted brick.