“The Case Against 8” offers an intimate look at the repeal of Prop 8

The Supreme Court’s decisions on the Prop 8 case and the Edie Windsor case last summer changed the face and the social fabric of America. While both trials occurred behind closed doors, a production team led by Ryan White and Ben Cotner was savvy enough to have documented the five year process of repealing Prop 8 all the way to the Supreme Court. The five years of footage have been edited into the wonderfully moving documentary The Case Against 8.


Prop 8, the discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage that was voted into law during the 2008 November elections, effectively nullified over 18,000 marriages with 52% of the vote.

Soon after the election the American Foundation for Equal Rights was created, and the group promptly hired Bush v. Gore opponents Ted Olson and David Boies to team up as the lawyers for marriage equality in California—and, ideally, beyond, all the way to the Supreme Court.

If the court case, as it wove its way through the federal district court to the Supreme Court, didn’t make you cry, this documentary will. It’s fantastic. It’s our documented history, with actual footage of the lawyers and plaintiffs—Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami—from the confidential “war room” to last-minute trial preparation. It gives the audience a direct view into the events leading up to the Supreme Court trial, which no piece of journalism has as adequately or fully presented to date.

This film offers us the crucial “human element” of this historic event. All four plaintiffs experienced significant levels of stress and anxiety as their personal names were used to symbolize a large, social movement. But their dual commitment to each other and to the LGBT community provided the strength they needed.

If you watch it and don’t see the value in marriage—which many queer people are critical of—well, then I personally recommend checking out your personal, emotional intelligence. Not to mention that you should check your privilege, because, contrary to popular belief, it takes a lot of this magical accusative term in order to willingly refuse participation in a social institution.

Yes, as Olson even states in the documentary, “marriage is a conservative value”: “It’s two people who love one another and want to live together in a stable relationship, to become part of a family and part of a neighborhood and part of our economy.” The parameter of two people, indeed, discriminates against a number of types of families, but the notion of being a functionally civic-minded human being, who participates in their neighborhood and economy,  shouldn’t be an extraordinary idea considering we depend on society to live.

Another heavily iterated point of the plaintiffs and their lawyers was that Prop 8 needed to be repealed “for the children”—over 40,000 of which are raised in LGBT households. This was a point that many of us in the LGBT community found contention with during the trial itself, because we shouldn’t need to have children in order to justify our love for one another. But it was an argument heavily relied up; indeed, it proved to be what Olson called the “Perry Mason moment” of the trial, in which a member of the opposition actually served the case of the plaintiffs.

Regardless of your sentimentality of gay marriage, as a visual archive, The Case Against 8 is a must-see film for everyone in the community.

The Case Against 8 premieres Monday, June 23 on HBO.

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