Discrimination comes in many forms, none more brazen than the passing of laws to restrict the rights of an entire group of people. That’s exactly what happened in California in 2008 when the euphoria of Obama’s election, a momentous occasion that had seen many in the state fall for his lofty rhetoric about equality, turned sour. The reason was Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that passed and came into force the day following the election. Suddenly, marriage could only exist between a man and a woman again. Ben Cotner and Ryan White’s uneven film follows the progress of the triumphant legal action taken to overturn Proposition 8.
The bulk of The Case Against 8 is given over to the creation of the legal team and the pre-trial preparation in the run-up to the 2010 hearing. It’s also the strongest part of an overlong film. Cotner and White succeed in demonstrating just why this issue matters to so many, bringing out the emotional impact it has on the two couples at the heart of the argument; Kris Perry and Sandra Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo. Revealing their passionate desire to be treated equally under the law and the suffering caused by withdrawing this is the films highlight.
The actual creation of a legal case also provides fascinating viewing. The team scored something of a coup by convincing Conservative legal poster boy Ted Olson, the man that helped Bush prevent a recount in Florida in 2000, to lead their case. In an interesting quirk, he then brought David Boies, his opposite number in 2000 for the Gore team on board. An odd bromance develops between the two as they sit there praising the others abilities to the camera. It’s strangely compelling to watch them build the case, taking depositions and prepping their own witnesses.
Once the case is ready to go, Cotner and White begin to lose their way. The first blow is the decision to ban cameras from the court room. It’s hardly their fault that they are robbed of this dramatic high point, but their own feeble re-enactment, getting the plaintiffs and the legal team to re-read from the transcript, is stilted and awkward. The vagaries of the American justice system and its interminable appeals also rob forward momentum. After the Californian case, the film drags on for some time jumping forward in sudden jolts through various appeals and a trip to the supreme court.
An interesting story is also let down by some poor production decisions. Schmaltzy music swirls in the background whenever the plaintiffs are talking about love, giving it the air of a cheap romance. The relentlessly one-sided focus is a further disappointment and little effort is made to put their actions in a wider context barring a brief graph listing the states that have revoked bans on gay marriage since. By displaying the personal impact of Proposition 8, the content in The Case Against 8 is strong. The form however, let down by questionable technique and some poor decisions, is not.
Click here for more on The Case Against 8.