List Film

The Case Against 8 (3 stars)

Elegant but unbalanced account of the fight against a controversial amendment

The Case Against 8

The eight of the title refers to Proposition 8, which would have added to California's Declaration of Rights the specification that marriage be permitted only between a man and a woman, and was ruled as unconstitutional in 2010.

Ben Cotner and Ryan White's film is a class act all the way – complete with that solemn, dramatic, Philip Glass-y score that high-end documentaries are seemingly required to have. The film has plenty of teary moments, but is rather more interesting as a study of an extraordinary legal case than as a piece of campaigning rhetoric. The chances are, after all, that if you’re watching this, you probably already think that being gay is all right; and the film certainly gives no space, or serious consideration to any argument to the contrary.

It is, in other words, solidly pitched at the converted, which makes its rainbow flag-waving a less productive use of its considerable screen time than its legal detail. It’s particularly fascinating how Ted Olson, a Republican lawyer best known for serving as Solicitor General under George W Bush, became an unlikely hero of the gay rights movement when he agreed to front the case against the proposition; how the team bringing the challenge scoured the state for gay couples whose flawless reputations meant they could present an image of gay marriage palatable even to the homophobically-inclined; and how conservative witnesses who professed themselves to be in favour of familial stability found in the courtroom that their own rhetoric placed them on the side of what they thought they opposed.

The problem with the film’s emotional content is that there is equally powerful emotion on the other side of the debate. But in terms of its cool handling of the legal and logical side of the argument, it offers a strong record of an inarguably significant human rights case.

Selected release from Fri 7 Nov.

The Case Against 8: Trailer (HBO Documentary Films)

The Case Against 8

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 109 min
  • Directed by: Ben Cotner/Ryan White
  • UK release: 7 November 2014

Documentary about the case against Proposition 8, a proposed but now-defeated amendment to California's Declaration of Rights which would have made same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Solidly pitched at the converted, its examination of the legal detail is fascinating but it could have used more of the same, and less…


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