Tonight on HBO is the television debut of The Case Against 8, a documentary five years in the making about the legal challenge to California's Proposition 8. You know how it ended—with a Supreme Court decision that effectively allowed marriage equality back to California—but the play-by-play of the colossal fight was more riveting than most imagined. It wasn't just a legal strategy that won the day, it was a coordinated case made in the court of public opinion. Much like Jo Becker, whose book Forcing the Spring relied on a wealth of on-the-ground details, The Case Against 8 goes deep inside the day-to-day work that went into the case and tells the human stories at its core.
Last week, the fimmakers and subjects gathered at the Castro Theater for a screening of the film as part of the Frameline Film Festival. "This is our homecoming," Sandra Stier, one of the plaintiffs, told San Francisco. "We got married in 2004 in San Francisco, and we've been working to get back to being happy and well ever since." "We're like newlywed empty nesters," said her wife, Kristen Perry. The couple was one of two carefully chosen pairs of plaintiffs who carried the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The other couple, Paul Katami (who grew up in the Sunset district) and Jeffery Zarillo, said that they would be celebrating their marriages again in a few weeks—this time in a private ceremony with their families. "Our first audience was the cameras," said Zarillo. "It wasn't with our families. So we're going to do cake and champagne with them in Los Angeles."
Though the screening's atmosphere was festive—almost giddy—those in attendance seemed to realize that their success had been only partial. Critics—like San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who stoked ire last week by joining an anti-gay-marriage march on Washington—still remain. Attorney Ted Boutrous, who worked on the Prop 8 case, echoed what many said their message would be those like the Archbishop: "Why would we want to stop people who are in love from forming a family? It’s not a religious ceremony, it’s civil. Religions can focus on their issues however they want to." Ryan White, one of the filmmakers, added, "I was raised Catholic, and I hope [Cordileone] would be open to watching our film. I think he’d be smiling to see them get married at the end."
Boutrous saw little chance of a Roe-style backlash emerging to the court's decisions. "It's game, set, and match. Roe kind of came out of the blue, but this issue has been fully vetted by the American people." Zarillo agreed: "We're not putting a period at the end of the sentence. We're putting an exclamation point."
Just as the film was about to start, actor-director Rob Reiner, who had helped fund the effort, ran into Vaughn Walker, the now retired judge who had presided over the district court trial that set the case in motion. "I always wanted to meet you," said Reiner. "And now I have. Your ruling galvanized it. It's been quoted in virtually every decision since then." Said Walker, "You picked incredible clients." Reiner laughed, "It played like a movie."
The Case Against 8 premieres tonight at 9 on HBO.