Exploring California’s battle for marriage equality
by Bradley Donalson
As marriage equality sweeps the nation (and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals seemingly positions itself to strike down marriage bans in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi), HBO Documentary Films has released the award-winning Case Against 8 on DVD and Digital HD. Complete with over 30 minutes of deleted footage and a 45-minute panel discussion with the plaintiffs and filmmakers, the film documents the historic legal road to the Supreme Court to overturn California’s antigay Proposition 8 (which was passed by voters in 2008) and the movement that helped change public opinion on same-sex marriage.
First-time director Ben Cotner and Ryan White (Good Ol’ Freda, Pelada) take the audience on a journey through the struggles of the plaintiffs and attorneys fighting against Proposition 8. The film includes the story of Ted Olson, the highly conservative lawyer turned LGBT-advocate who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election case, then went on to become one of the lead attorneys in favor of same-sex marriage equality. Putting a further spin on things, Olson’s choice of co-counsel in the Proposition 8 case was his previous opponent, David Boies, who represented Gore in the 2000 election case. Throughout the process, Olson and Boies would face opposing opinions from both sides of the legal aisle, as well as a general feeling from the LGBT community that the time wasn’t right for the case.
The film also exposes the rigorous vetting process used to find the ideal plaintiffs for the case. Two couples were chosen to represent the interests of the community: Kris Perry and Sandy Stier; and Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami. Perry and Stier are the mothers to four boys, and the passage of Proposition 8 had nullified their 2004 marriage that took place in San Francisco, leaving the family in confusion. Zarillo and Katami, a couple wanting to start a family, were hesitant to do so because Proposition 8 prohibited them from receiving the same legal protections afforded to heterosexual married couples.
After five years of filming, The Case Against 8 has won the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as Best Documentary Feature and Audience Award in the same category at the Riverrun International Film Festival. It was also awarded the Festival Favorites Audience Award at Austin’s 2014 SXSW.
The Case Against 8 is now available from HBO Documentary Films (hbo.com/documentaries).