Like the many political documentaries that have been marching through theaters in recent months, "Tying the Knot" has an agenda (see Film Notes). Rather than expressing it mainly through polemics, though, documentarian Jim de Seve's cogent pro-gay-marriage argument appeals equally to emotion and reason.
Centering as much around people as ideas, it follows an Oklahoma farmer identified only as Sam and a Florida policewoman named Mickie Mashburn, both of whom have become embroiled in legal struggles to be recognized as spouses since their same-sex life partners died a few years ago. In Sam's case, his partner of 22 years, Earl, had willed Sam his ranch when Earl died in 2000, only to see Earl's relatives -- successfully so far -- contest the document on a technicality. In Mickie's case, the Tampa cop has been fighting the local police department's decision not to release her partner Lois Marrero's pension, ever since Lois was gunned down in the line of duty while responding to a 2001 bank robbery.
In every way but on paper, as "Tying the Knot" makes clear, Sam and Earl and Mickie and Lois were married couples, and the legal roadblocks that have been set up to prevent them from enjoying the spousal benefits that straight widows and widowers would automatically get seem, to put it mildly, inhumane. Of course, filmmaker de Seve wants us to use our heads along with our hearts, and he presents lots of historical background -- courtesy mainly of "What Is Marriage For?" author E.J. Graff -- to buttress the view of an evolving (not to mention evolved) definition of the marriage institution. Ironically, it is populist talk-show host Larry King, who, while interviewing James Dobson of the anti-gay-marriage lobbying group Focus on the Family, most succinctly punctures the illogical argument that same-sex marriage somehow weakens heterosexual unions. Why, King asks, if gays want to destroy traditional marriage (whatever that means), would they want to be married in the first place?
TYING THE KNOT (Unrated, 87 minutes) --Contains some crude language and images of ugly anti-gay protests. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.