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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...

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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

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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...

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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...

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Prop 8 Judge Vaughn Walker Describes Closeted Past, 'Ex-Gay' Therapy

In an upcoming book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Jo Becker, Judge Vaughn Walker — the U.S. District Court judge who declared California’s anti-gay marriage law Proposition 8 unconstitutional — reveals that he underwent 'ex-gay' reparative therapy as a young man.

WalkerSF Gate has more:

Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality describes Walker blinking back tears as he listened to the man's testimony in 2010, recalling the therapy he had undergone three decades earlier to try to unsnarl uncertainties about his own sexual orientation - but it was a nightmare not revealed publicly until now…

Becker writes that Walker told her the psychiatrist - after some counseling that Walker no longer remembers in any detail - ultimately determined he was not actually gay because he had not yet had sex with a man.

"And he pronounced me cured," recalled Walker - who "wanted badly to believe that was true," the book says…

The "conversion" therapy episodes are among several the book reveals as Walker recalls his internal struggles over his sexuality - and whether, or how, to disclose it.

He says he had "faux romances" with women, entered his first relationship with a man in his late 30s, and was thinking of coming out publicly - but pulled back when he found himself representing the U.S. Olympic Committee in a trademark suit against a San Francisco organization that wanted to call its athletic competition the Gay Olympics.

… After some years on the bench, as Becker describes it, he "began to live a little more openly," occasionally visiting a gay bar, and being seen at social events with his partner, a physician. But he went public with his orientation only in April 2011, more than two months after his retirement.

Shortly after ruling on Prop 8, Walker came out and anti-gay supporters of the law tried to have his decision thrown out on the basis of his inability to be “impartial” as a gay man. That challenge was heard and dismissed by a judge who said that such logic would render female judges unable to rule on gender bias cases.

Becker's book has faced criticism for largely crediting the gay marriage movement's successes to the people she interviewed — something David Mixner noted in his most recent Towleroad column.


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