‘The Case Against 8’ is another in a line of well-made HBO documentaries. The film chronicles the legal and moral battle against Proposition 8 from its passage on election night 2008 through the somewhat muted yet significant Supreme Court decision in the summer of 2013.
As a quick refresher, Proposition 8 was a referendum, passed by popular vote in California, that defined marriage as existing only between a man and a woman. Immediate outrage from California’s gay community made a legal challenge based on grounds of discrimination unavoidable. From the very beginning, the court case against the proposition was set-up as a test case for gay marriage, with possible ramifications for people all over the country. The lawsuit brought together a somewhat unlikely mix of individuals, demonstrating that the issue could not simply be parsed in terms of political party or ideology. One of the film’s many strengths is the way it showcases how this multifaceted group worked together and related despite their differences.
The complex story and intricate details of the case are brought to life in a rich story that is allowed to carry itself, rather than rely on an unseen narrator or too many after-the-fact interviews. Perhaps the biggest asset of this documentary is its usage of footage that illustrates the human element of the issue. This was a court case, but, as the film shows, it was also so much more.
The individuals highlighted throughout the film are the actual plaintiffs and their lawyers from the Proposition 8 case. While its ramifications may have had nationwide effects, this documentary does a good job focusing in on how those intricately involved in the proceedings handled themselves and dealt with the pressures created by the case. The legal drama is present, but it is packaged within the context of the overall issue.
One of the most interesting, and at times heart-wrenching, storylines of the film surveys what it is like to be a plaintiff in such a controversial test case. This includes not only having the courage to introduce and fight against discrimination before a court, but also to weather outcries of hatred, including death threats, that such a position tends to produce from the public forum. The inclusion of this firsthand perspective gives ‘The Case Against 8’ a uniqueness missing from other documentaries on the same subject.
Running at almost two hours, this film is lengthy, but worth it. It is very easy to read a news story or blurb in a book about an issue like Proposition 8, but it takes a film like ‘The Case Against 8’ to truly exhibit what it means and what the fight was for. ‘The Case Against 8’ is a must watch documentary that will easily take its place as the definitive archive on the battle against Proposition 8 in California.
You can watch ‘The Case Against 8’ Monday, June 23, on HBO.