In 2004, the state of California ruled that same-sex couples could get married. In 2008, this ruling was overturned by Proposition 8 when the majority of the state voted in a ballot that ‘marriage’ was a term which could only be applied to heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples who were married by the state, received letters in the mail that said, “You are no longer legally married. If you would like a refund for your marriage licence please let us know if you’d like it as a cheque or bank deposit.”
The Case Against 8, directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White, focuses on the legal team, headed by Ted Olson and David Boies, and the two same-sex couples who, in 2009, sued the state for overturning their right to get married: Kristin and Sandy and Paul and Jeffrey. Interestingly, we learn that Olson and Boies didn’t always see eye to eye, particularly politcally. In the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore, which ended the recount of the contested 2000 Presidential election, Olson won the case for the Republicans. Thus, “he is the reason we had George Bush.” For many people it was surprising that Olson, a staunch Republican, would choose to defend same-sex marriage, and at first the team faces a lot of backlash from members of the LGBT community who feel that Olson is traitor. The documentary never delves into why Olson chose to defend Bush or how his conservative beliefs fit with same-sex marriage, but Cotner and White portray him as an extremely competent and hard-working lawyer who passionately believes in the cause. In this way, the legalisation of same-sex marriage is represented as an issue that transcends political preferences.
Throughout the film, it is emphasised that the right to get married is a basic civil right and that the action of denying a particular group of society the ability to get married is a form of oppression. A particularly powerful scene occurs when Olson is preparing Kris to be plaintiff. He asks whether she thinks her life would have been different if she had grown up in a world where same-sex couples could get married. She replies that if it weren’t for all the discrimination she’s faced, she wouldn’t be the strong person she is today. She has survived. But isn’t that a terribly low bar society has set for her? Shouldn’t she and the LGBT children of the next generation have the right to want more out of life than mere survival? They should feel that that they, like their heterosexual peers, have the right to be happy, and this documentary, in part, argues that.
Before seeing this documentary, there was a lot that I didn’t properly understand about Proposition 8, lack of Australian news coverage contributed to this. Having no legal background, and knowing nothing about the technicalities of legal proceedings, I was unsure how engaging it would be. It’s a testament to the filmmakers that now I personally feel very strongly that same-sex couples should have the right to get married. In addition to having a strong message , The Case Against 8 is heart-warming, engaging, and often very funny. I would suggest you seek it out whether or not your beliefs align with that of the film and hope that you can take away from it the following – that marriage is a basic civil right that everyone, regardless of sexual preference, deserves to enjoy.