When the state of California votes to forbid same-sex marriage, two same-sex California couples join forces to fight for their ability to legally marry.
On America’s Election Night of 2008, liberals across the nation rejoiced when Barack Obama was elected President of The United States, but their joy was tempered by the fact that in the state of California, voters approved Proposition 8 – an amendment to the state’s Constitution which would ban same-sex marriage. Activists immediately sprung into action and decided to fight this in court; they found two same-sex couples in the state who would act as the plaintiffs: Kris Perry and Sandy Stier (a lesbian couple from San Francisco) and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo (a gay couple from Los Angeles).
In engaging a major law firm to represent the couples, they curiously find that Ted Olson is willing to take on the case. Olson was an unlikely ally because he is a well-known conservative attorney who represented George W. Bush back in 2000 after that year’s disputed presidential election. Hiring Olson turned out to be a controversial decision: his fellow conservatives considered him a traitor and liberals suspected him of having a hidden agenda, seeking to sabotage the efforts of the gay and lesbian community. On this one matter, however, Olson sided with the liberals, citing that this was an issue conservatives could support because it supported family values.
Making matters even more interesting is that Olson teams with David Boies; Boies was Olson’s opposing counsel in the 2000 court case about that year’s Presidential election (Boies represented former Vice President Al Gore’s campaign). Together, this unlikely team works to fight the amendment on the basis that the ability to marry is a civil rights issue and Proposition 8 essentially violates the civil rights of not only the plaintiffs but also all gay and lesbian couples in the United States. Ultimately, the case is taken to The Supreme Court Of The United States where the two attorneys must try to convince the nine justices their clients’ concern is legally valid.
One of the obvious disadvantages the filmmakers have when documenting a high-profile court case such as this is that everyone knows the outcome. As a result, it’s difficult to maintain much suspense throughout the film. Therefore, there are other aspects of the story that have to be detailed in order to keep your attention. On the one hand, they do a good job of this because we’re given a behind-the-scenes view of how the plaintiff’s side of the case was put together. Where “The Case Against 8” fails, however, is that it only tells that one side of the story and does so in a rather slanted way.
“The Case Against 8” is basically a documentary intended to preach to the converted. If you’re looking for something “fair and balanced”, keep looking because there’s very little in the way of objectivity here. This is unfortunate because it was a landmark case that illustrates society’s changing mores; hearing the perspective of the other side would’ve been welcome even if you didn’t necessarily agree. Unfortunately, the opposition is made to look either evil or idiotic or both. A chance at a political or legal (or even philosophical or religious) discourse would’ve gone a long way to making this a more substantial work.
Following the screening, a representative from The Film Society Of Lincoln Center interviewed the filmmakers and plaintiffs from the documentary. Co-directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White said that this has been a five year project for which their footage was submitted for editing in the autumn of 2013; the expectation was that the editing would need to be completed within a period of a few months. White said that given the tremendous amount of footage shot over the years, just a few months didn’t seem to be a realistic goal. Kate Amend, the film’s editor, wound up pleasantly surprising everyone by providing a version of the film by the specified deadline.