The quest for marriage equality is a 21-year (and counting) journey whose history is still being written. Lawsuits challenging statutory and state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage have rained down on the nation like confetti. And federal and state judges in 18 states have used 2013’s historic Supreme Court ruling overturning the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as their template. But the first draft of the history of the Supreme Court’s other historic ruling last year — its invalidation of California’s 2008 voter-approved constitutional ban on gay marriage (Proposition 8) — is already trickling out.
“Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality” by Jo Becker hit bookstores in April. And controversy swamped it before anyone had a chance to read it. I found many of the critiques of Becker’s book unfair, which is a shame because they have kept people from reading her riveting, insider account of this discrete moment in the long-running marriage equality movement. Becker, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, talked to all the participants to deliver a warts-and-all view of events to overturn Prop 8 that took place between Election Night 2008 and June 26, 2013.
The New York City premiere last night of “The Case Against 8,” which will air on HBO on June 23, is the next chapter in the first draft of the history of the challenge to Prop 8. The stars of the film by Ben Cotner and Ryan White are the plaintiffs — Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami — and their lawyers — Ted Olson and David Boies. Whereas Becker gives them voice in her book, they speak for themselves in this deeply personal documentary. If you have a quick eye you can spy Becker; she was embedded with the lawyers and plaintiffs for four and a half years.
It’s not like we don’t know what’s going to happen. But for those who followed the ins-and-outs of the Prop 8 trial, from Judge Vaughn Walker’s federal district court in San Francisco to the Supreme Court, the power of this movie lies in watching Perry, Stier, Katami and Zarrillo go through it. You see them prepare for potentially brutal cross examinations. You listen to hate-filled voicemails received by Perry and Stier, one of which said their children would die from AIDS. You see all of their emotions bubble up as they read from the transcripts of their trial testimony. And you watch them marry. Katami and Zarrillo were married by then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Perry and Stier were wedded by Kamala Harris, the California attorney general.
“As young gay boys growing up in Indiana and Georgia, Ben and I admired those who led our movement and devoted their lives to advancing equality. Because they spoke out and led the charge, others could follow,” White told me via email. That’s what drove him and Cotner to tell the story of Prop 8 through the plaintiffs.
“[They] were willing to put everything on the line for the right to marry the person they love,” White said. “When we started filming, we didn’t know whether they would win or lose, but we are so proud now that the world will be able to witness their deeply moving chapter in the journey toward marriage equality.”
Olson and Boies, the legal and political odd couple that got Prop 8 overturned, will present their own version of events in “Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality.” The book will come out a week before the HBO film. While it’s a fine read, it comes nowhere close to the emotional power of “The Case Against 8” or the journalistic rigor and curiosity of Becker’s “Forcing the Spring.” No doubt there will be other books written and movies made about Prop 8 and the case against it by people not so closely tied to it. But when read and watched together, the books and the movie are a good first draft of a key moment in history.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj