The Case Against 8 review: sex and the singular homophobes

The US fight for marriage equality is movingly portrayed in this stirring documentary

The Case Against 8
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Director: Ben Cotner, Ryan White
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Ted Olson, Christopher D. Dusseault
Running Time: 1 hr 52 mins

In a more civilised country, this thrilling, enlightening courtroom procedural would be mandatory viewing.

The riveting documentary, a deserving winner of a Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival, chronicles the legal battle to overturn California’s Proposition 8, a perverse constitutional amendment cooked up by the opponents of same-sex marriage in 2008.

Closet homophobes and their thin arguments (“But can’t they have a different word for it?”) are intellectually decimated across various hearings.

By the time the case is up and running – and it’s a hard-fought, four-year process – the anti-equality campaigners are left with one expert witness: David Blankenhorn, the founder of the Institute of American Values.


Bravely and rather famously, Blankenhorn would undergo a Damascene conversion under cross-examination by the Perry Mason-like David Boies, stating: “I believe that adopting same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children.”

What's most compelling about The Case Against 8 is that it is not a partisan procedural. Sure, it brings a tear to the eye to hear the testimonies of the two loving couples (Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami) at the heart of the case. We meet the jolly, grown-up children from these unions. We hear about the religious mother who carries holy water in her purse but who, nonetheless, wants her son to be happy.

But, as the film notes, The Case Against 8 began at a moment in time when even Barack Obama was squiffy on the issue of same-sex marriage.

The real star of the show here is not some “lefty liberal” but Ted Olsen, who served as United States solicitor general under president George W Bush. Olsen is the same lawyer who stopped the recounts in Florida and delivered the contested election.

Described by such imprints as Mother Jones as an ultra-conservative, Olsen sees clear parallels between those who oppose gay marriage and those who once opposed interracial unions.

His argument is rooted in civil rights and a very straightforward legal notion. If “marriage” – either the word or the institution – has any meaning, then it must mean the same thing for everyone or else mean nothing at all.

Stirring stuff.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic