Saturday, March 3, saw a live YouTube broadcast of Dustin Lance Black’s play 8, a reenactment of Perry v Schwarzenegger (later Perry v Brown), the 2010 trial that ruled California’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional.
The play premiered on Broadway in September, 2011, but this live version from Los Angeles was an abridged reading by an all-star cast that included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen and Jamie-Lee Curtis.
Black has based his script largely on the court transcripts. The defendants, arguing for Proposition 8, successfully fought to keep video of the proceedings out of the public eye. I’d wager they now regret that, since this interpretation by Black, director Rob Reiner and their cast can only be more damning for the anti-equality lobby.
The play is bookended by a family story, that of plaintiff Kris Perry, her partner Sandra Steir, and their two teenage sons, Spencer and Elliott Perry. Denied a marriage licence by the state of California, Perry took her complaint to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. At Towleroad, Ari Ezra Waldman has already written well about the wisdom of Black’s decision to frame the story with the lives of an everyday American family:
As the plaintiffs Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, respectively, Christine Lahti and Jamie Lee Curtis joked about how their sons do not like to be seen in public with their moms and they did their best to leave trial to get home in time for soccer practice. Should they get pizza? Would Spencer Perry have enough time to study for his test? How was Elliot Perry going to get to soccer practice? Ms. Lahti almost cried when she expressed her undying love for her son, and Ms. Curtis wanted nothing more than to live a normal life. Theirs was a family making sacrifices that no family should have to make, and even their teenage boy could see it. Elliot Perry (played by Jansen Panettiere) “hated that we have to do this” not because he was missing soccer, but because no one should have to justify the legitimacy of the family.
Mr. Panettiere was reminding us that the fight for marriage recognition is about Elliot and Spencer (“Spence”), the loving family in which they are being raised, and the thousands of families like theirs. It is essentially a conservative quest: to bring the stabilizing and legitimizing force of state-sanctioned marriage to the gay community.
I have long believed that proponents of same-sex marriage can win the argument by playing their opponents at their own game. We stand up for marriage equality precisely because we believe in traditional values of family, commitment and stability. We must tell the world real stories of real lives, real families, real mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. 8 does this.
A dramatic peak of the play is when “pro-traditional marriage” author David Blankenhorn — the defense’s sole expert witness — is forced to admit that he believes legalizing same-sex marriage would add to the well-being of gay and lesbian families, and that “we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before.”
Clooney, as lawyer for the plaintiff David Boies, and John C Reilly as Blankenhorn play these exchanges, condensed from about seven hours of actual testimony, for maximum drama and maximum comedy. And it is hilarious. And it is very telling that the one “expert” summoned by the defense was utterly incapable of giving a rational defense of Prop 8 and, in fact, supplied evidence that only bolstered the plaintiff’s case for marriage equality.
The defendants appealed Judge Vaughn R Walker’s decision that Prop 8 violated the US Constitution, and when 8 premiered in New York, the appeal was ongoing. Saturday’s broadcast reflected the February 7, 2012, outcome of the appeal, which upheld Judge Walker’s ruling. Proposition 8, the “Protection of Marriage Act,” which stated that “only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” has once more been ruled unconstitutional. The ruling has once more been appealed. The story will be played out again in California, in other states and eventually in the Supreme Court, but as 8 so clearly showed, the trajectory of anti-equality legislation is clear.
Watch the entire video of Dustin Lance Black’s 8 below. The play starts at the 30-minute mark and lasts 90 minutes.