“[The Case Against 8] is a rewarding documentary just because it works to humanize those actually affected…”

The Case Against 8 plays like a fascinating, nail-biting legal thriller, even if you already know the outcome of California’s controversial Proposition 8 legislature and the legal battle that followed it. It chronicles the two brave gay couples that witnessed marital and social injustice right before their very eyes and decided to engage in the help of two of their governmental representatives in order to shoot down a piece of legislature they felt was unconstitutional and unjust.

The two couples in question are Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami and Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, both of whom are representing the average homosexual relationship by testifying against a court and proving there is no justifiable reason for them not to be married in a United States Court of Law. The couples enlist in the help of Theodore Olson, a known-Conservative lawyer and David Boies, a democratic-leaning lawyer to assist them along in the process of organizing a formal trial and getting the support necessary in the face of a demeaning and ridiculous ad campaign defacing homosexual marriage.

The Case Against 8
Directed by
Ben Cotner, Ryan White
Release Date
23 June 2014
Steve’s Grade: B

We learn in the beginning title cards of The Case Against 8 that this Proposition 8 legislature was about as abrupt as somebody bumping the needle on a record player in the middle of an easy-listening song. In 2008, same-sex couples were granted the right to marry and, as a result, 18,000 couples were wed. Fast-forward six months and you have Proposition 8, a bill calling for marriage in California to be identified as “one man, one woman.” When Proposition 8 passed (something I still find myself flabbergasted at, given the liberal environment of California), you not only had marriage clearly outlined to exclude same-sex couples but you also had 18,000 marriages nullified. Kris and Sandy explain the heartbreak of getting a form in the mail saying that their marriage had been nullified, thinking that the celebration, the money they spent on a beautiful wedding, and everyone whom attended was all for nothing. It was a heartbreaking idea that no straight couple could even begin to understand.

The film goes on and details a brutal and complex fight – one that was illegal to film as it was unfolding, in fact. Right around the time The Case Against 8 was made, a law prohibiting recording devices in courtrooms was passed, restricting documentarians Ben Cotner and Ryan White from filming the court proceedings of Proposition 8. Unfortunately, that takes a great deal away from the suspense and structure of the film. Admittedly, there’s nothing Cotner nor White could’ve done, but just to give you an idea of what effect that has on the film, imagine the Paradise Lost trilogy, which concerned the West Memphis Three and their court proceedings, without all the unrestricted access to court footage and insider access. This element can only be partially restored by having Olson, Boies, and both couples read public documents from the court, but that still doesn’t substitute the real thing in terms of suspense and progress.

Other than that, this is a rewarding documentary just because it works to humanize those actually affected by legislature rather than generalizing and hearing media pundits like Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow say how something does or doesn’t affect you. The Case Against 8 gives us solid insight into what it’s like to be caught up in the middle of unfair legislature, how it affects humans on a personal level, and how it works to make you fight to become the person you thought you couldn’t be; that almost makes up for the lack of courtroom footage. Almost.

NOTE: The Case Against 8 will air throughout the month of June and July 2014 on HBO.

Review by Lead Film Critic, Steve Pulaski