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Proposition 8, 'Instant History', And The Plaintiff Heroes

BY DAVID MIXNER

At a dinner party the other night, a guest spoke up and said, "The Proposition 8 case has almost become its own industry. They have the plays, the movies, the documentaries, the books and soon to come will be the coffee cups and coasters." In many ways, he was just reflecting on the weariness that has set in with the 'instant history' that has taken place in the framing of the Proposition 8 battle.

PlaintiffsPersonally, I am fascinated with all aspects of the case but also wish the gallant and more important DOMA victory in the Supreme Court would also have its 'insider's account'. Edie Windsor just might be the most beloved person in the LGBT community and her grace is simply contagious.

"Instant history' is not necessarily a bad thing.

People want to get their version of events out as soon as possible. In today's social media world, these products of Proposition 8 are no more than a modern day version of the old 'journals' kept by other historical figures. Presidents, Secretary of States and power brokers throughout our more than two centuries of history have kept records to ensure that history is seen through their eyes.

As I prepare for my own one man show as a benefit for the Point Foundation in October, I struggle with my reality and the truth. I have self-imposed an end to the show at the year 2000 so at least a decade exists between my recollections and events. Even then, I am somewhat uncomfortable with putting out my perception of the 'truth'. However, I am driven by the large number of our 'history tellers' who died of HIV/AIDS and the huge number of lost stories that leave a gaping hole in American LGBT history.

With this in mind, I can't urge you enough to go see very powerful documentary The Case Against 8 which opens this weekend in New York and Los Angeles. The HBO film is worth seeing just to finally see four amazing heroes of our movement whose names are not as well known as the activists and lawyers surrounding the case.

Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo are the plaintiffs in the case and this film allows us to see their journey for the first time in a powerful and moving way.

Not to diminish the others involved in the case, but these four brave individuals for over five years allowed every aspect of their personal lives to be examined, endured hate calls, put their lives at risk and exposed their families to unbearable pressure in order that each LGBT American could live a freer life.

The Case Against 8 highlights their journey and it is extraordinary to witness their determination to represent our community well while under intense pressure. Yes, there are weaknesses in the film and some characters are slighted at the expense of others.

However, putting all the small stuff aside, this film's heart belongs to the plaintiffs. All I can say is a big old 'thank you' to them for the courage and love that is magnificently on display throughout this worthwhile documentary.


Film Review: 'The Case Against 8'

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BY JOSEPH EHRMAN-DUPRE

“This may be the most important case I’ve ever handled,” states Ted Olson, one of the two attorneys fighting Prop 8 in Ryan White and Ben Cotner’s intimate documentary, The Case Against 8. And after watching the film, you will feel as though you have won right alongside him.

As we know by now, the initial case against Prop 8, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, eventually wound its way to the United States Supreme Court. We also know that the outcome was favorable, and same-sex couples in California could marry once more. Still, White and Cotner’s documentary effectively builds suspense by successfully balancing its emotional and legal content, taking us beyond primetime news coverage for an in-depth and ultimately cathartic journey.

8AttorneysThe film takes a relatively direct approach. Though we start in March 2013, with a prologue involving the lead-up to the Supreme Court case, the film immediately flashes back to November 2008 where we are faced with an interesting coincidence: the election of President Obama--a harbinger of hope--and the ominous passage of Proposition 8 in California. What follows is an Avengers-style character introduction, as each new member of the legal super-team is picked up, unaware of the harrowing adventures they will take on together. 

The movie was screened at Film Society of Lincoln Center and included a talkback with our super-team, the directors (who won the documentary directing prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival), the plaintiffs, and Chad Griffin, director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights. At the talkback, Ryan White admitted that he and Cotner initially intended to focus the film on the odd couple pairing of Ted Olson and David Boies (above right), memorable rivals in the Bush v. Gore case who, in this battle, proved that marriage equality is not an issue of liberals versus conservatives (check out Towleroad's 2010 interview with the attorneys here). The filmmakers adjusted their initial intention, however. Plaintiffs Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami (below left), and Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier (below right), take center stage, serving as the narrative’s emotional core. The couples are remarkably well-spoken individuals in their own right, and as much a part of the legal proceedings as the lawyers representing them.  

8JeffPaulWhere the film really stands apart is in its intimate, almost claustrophobic, prioritizing of jargon-heavy pre-trial vignettes in which a team of attorneys vet the plaintiffs and gather information in their San Francisco law office. The audience comes to understand the intricacies of the case and, more importantly, the personal investment that each of the people involved has in taking down Prop 8. Getting to know each individual helps forge a deeper stake in the case’s outcome, and makes the threat of failure in this battle far scarier.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Film Review: 'The Case Against 8'" »


Lessons from the Jo Becker Gay Marriage Book, Part 2: Two Edges of the Same Sword

BeckerBY LISA KEEN

Part One of Lisa Keen's look into Forcing the Spring appeared on May 6. Read it HERE.

May 14, 2009. Hollywood producer Rob Reiner and his wife Michele hosted a lunch to talk about a lawsuit they were supporting to challenge Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. At the table with them were public relations business partners Chad Griffin and Kristina Schake and openly gay Hollywood producer Bruce Cohen. Except that actor Dustin Lance Black was absent, this was the entire board of the one-month-old American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER).

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Ted Boutrous was there, representing his colleague, the well-known conservative attorney Ted Olson, who had been engaged to lead the litigation. But Boutrous was not just a stand-in. He was a crisis management strategist, veteran appeals court advocate, and an expert in media affairs. He would be one of the legal team’s top attorneys.

DavidsonTheir guests were two attorneys from the nation’s oldest national LGBT legal organization, Jon Davidson (right) and Jenny Pizer, and two attorneys from the Southern California chapter of the ACLU, Ramona Ripston and Mark Rosenbaum. Davidson was national legal director for the 36-year-old Lambda, the group that helped win the Romer v. Evans case which many believe paved the way for later LGBT victories when the Supreme Court declared that laws disfavoring gay people cannot be justified by animus. Pizer represented Lambda as co-counsel on the in re Marriage Cases that won the May 2008 ruling from the California Supreme Court that allowed 18,000 same-sex couples to marry until voters changed the state constitution that November. Ripston was executive director of the southern chapter, an attorney whom the Los Angeles Time had recently named one of the “100 Most Powerful People in Southern California.” Rosenbaum, too, had racked up considerable kudos since joining the chapter staff in 1974.

According to Jo Becker’s Forcing the Spring, Rob Reiner started things off by giving the guests a synopsis of the AFER group’s discussions and then Boutrous said that Ted Olson had been engaged to lead the lawsuit.

“Someone is going to bring a federal marriage lawsuit,” Boutrous said, according to Forcing the Spring. “And you won’t find a better advocate than Ted Olson.”

Given Olson’s well-known conservative ties and activities, it was a bold statement. And Becker’s account states that the Lambda and ACLU attorneys interrupted Boutrous with a “cacophony of criticism that grew increasingly heated.” She said they complained that Olson wasn’t “one of them.” They characterized Griffin and his pals as “upstarts who didn’t know what they were doing.” And they echoed a point respected gay legal activist Paul Smith had already made directly to Olson: that if a lawsuit were brought too soon, it could set the LGBT civil rights movement back for decades.

Tempers flared and, according to Becker’s book, Lambda’s Davidson “threw a multi-page dossier on the dining room table, outlining all the conservative causes Olson had championed over the years. This, and more, would be released to the media if they went ahead with their ill-fated plan, he threatened.”

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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California Poised To Remove Anti-Gay Language From State's Marriage Laws

The California state senate recently approved a bill that would remove language from the state’s Family Code defining marriage as only “between a man and a woman.” The bill (SB1306) would use gender-neutral language calling marriage as “a civil contract between two persons” and also open the door for California to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

CaliThese changes would bring the states laws into accordance with the recent Supreme, federal and state court decisions affirming the right of same-sex couples to wed.

The SF Gate reports:

“In June, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a lower court judge's order striking down as unconstitutional a ballot measure known as Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative that outlawed same-sex marriages in California. A 5-4 court majority ruled that the ban's sponsors lacked authority to defend the measure on appeal, though the justices did not directly address the ban's constitutionality.

Marriages resumed in late June after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a stay it had imposed on the lower court ruling. The state Supreme Court dismissed a final challenge by the ban's backers in August.”

The SF Gate adds that Republican Senator Jim Nielsen was the only Republican to speak against the bill and that in the California Assembly, only Republicans voted against the bill while two Republicans — Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Ted Gaines of Roseville — voted for it.


'The Case Against 8' Proposition 8 Documentary Gets a Full Trailer: VIDEO

Caseagainst8

Journalist Lisa Keen called Jo Becker's book Forcing the Spring "hell-bent on making Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and conservative icon attorney Ted Olson into the white horse heroes of an upcoming Hollywood docu-drama about How the Marriage Equality Movement was Won."

But in fact, there is such a Hollywood docu-drama, and it's called The Case Against 8, which might be seen by some as a companion, or perhaps an alternative, to Becker's controversial and highly-criticized retelling of the events in the Prop 8 case.

In any case, The Case Against 8 won the Documentary Directing Award at Sundance and took home an Audience Award at SXSW. It's opening in limited release in June and airing on HBO on June 23.

Watch the new trailer, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "'The Case Against 8' Proposition 8 Documentary Gets a Full Trailer: VIDEO" »


NYT Reporter Jo Becker Defends Marriage Equality Book in Grilling from Ronan Farrow: VIDEO

Farrow_becker

MSNBC host Ronan Farrow used a segment of his show to discuss NYT reporter Jo Becker's new book Forcing the Spring: The Fight for Marriage Equality which has come under heavy criticism for a narrative advocates have called absurd, distorted, and just plain wrong.

Becker is asked if she regrets any of the language she used, including comparisons of AFER's Chad Griffin to Rosa Parks, and starting the book with "this is how a revolution begins" as if the movement for marriage equality began when AFER took up the Prop 8 case.

Becker regrets none of it.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "NYT Reporter Jo Becker Defends Marriage Equality Book in Grilling from Ronan Farrow: VIDEO" »


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