Documenting what is arguably one of the most important civil rights campaigns in the modern history of the United States, comes a new film entitled The Freedom to Marry. Over the span of a relatively short four decades the same sex marriage went from taboo to law of the land and this wasn’t just the casual evolution and understanding of sexuality. Yet this wasn’t a natural evolution in human thinking. Certainly a greater understanding of sexuality and human psychology played a major role, but the discussion was not one that was initially embraced.
Following the legal maneuvering, the strategies, and the struggles of Evan Wolfson, considered the main architect of the legal movement, and Mary Bonauto main litigator of the courtroom battles, The Freedom to Marry offers us a fascinating look at the journey from far off idea to US Supreme Court.
“…offers us a fascinating look at the journey from far off idea to US Supreme Court.”
Taking a far more analytical approach to the material, we spend less time on the personal stories of those affected by the divisive legal definitions of marriage and more on the legal path to a civil rights victory. This is not to say we don’t learn about what is at stake. We meet a lesbian couple who have made a home for both them and their children, yet who, are not able to legally raise their kids as a unified team. We see the pain, the heartbreak in the eyes of litigators after the major setbacks in California over prop 8 as well as the tears of joy after victories in Massachusetts and Vermont.
Yet, instead of using the film to argue a case, we are allowed to look under the hood and see just how it happened. We get to see the setbacks and what was learned from them. We also see how the tactic of human is what ultimately led to a greater understanding. Director Eddie Rosenstein Judiciously laces the personal stories throughout yet focuses more on the study of legal tactics and paths to a goal. A shrewd move for a documentarian as the job is to document, regardless of your personal feelings on the matter and present a truthful narrative.
“…respectful to both sides of the issue while at the same time covering a tidal wave of public opinion.”
The most brilliant trick that The Freedom to Marry pulls off is being respectful to both sides of the issue while at the same time covering a tidal wave of public opinion heading to an inevitable conclusion. Yes, we know that same-sex marriage was made legal by the U.S. Supreme court. The journey, however, becomes the point rather than the destination. Wolfson and Bonauto’s tact was one of connection and understanding, while at the same time being fully capable of grappling with a Us Supreme Court on the verge of a major cultural precipice.
What could have come off as a victory lap for the gay rights movement becomes a documentary of the legal system during a time when it was put to the test. Regardless of your side on the issue, The Freedom to Marry is a film that approaches the subject matter with a surprising amount of respect for everyone’s point of view and a fascination with the legal tactics used by both sides.
Restrained and classy this film seeks to teach if nothing else, the value of persistence and strategy when everything else seems insurmountable.
The Freedom to Marry (2016) Directed by Eddie Rosenstein Staring: Evan Wolfson, Mary Bonauto, April DeBoer, Jayne Rowse, Marc Solomon
The Freedom To Marry is worth Matinee (***).
* Norm’s Rating System: Full Price (****), Matinee (***), VOD (**), Don’t Bother (*)