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LAist Movie Review: Saving Marriage

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Sorry, lady in the red hat. You've got two dudes on your poster and you're still outmanned. | Photo courtesy Regent Releasing.

As the November polls creep ever closer, it's easy to feel bombarded by the expanse of propositions and measures that extend well beyond the campaigns for the presidency. Transit measures and traffic congestion and veterans' rights all get equal space on the ballot. There is one proposition, however, that stands out as perhaps the most contentious throughout the great Golden State: Prop 8. Unless you live in some type of Inland Empire bomb shelter, you probably know that Proposition 8 is an amendment to the California Constitution that seeks to define marriage as only between one man and one woman, thus eliminating the marriage freedoms that all same-sex couples currently enjoy.

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

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Oh, you have? I'm not surprised, considering the exact same scenario unfolded in Massachusetts in 2003. As it happens, those hardscrabble Massholes were actually the first state in the union to allow same-sex couples to full and equal right to marry. While it was ultimately a moral and civil rights victory, the emotional tolls were often heavy, but the penalty for failure was always too much to bear. And this sense of desperation, of moral manifest destiny, and of a struggle for equality in the face of social norms and religious views, combine to define the unashamedly pro-same-sex-marriage documentary Saving Marriage.

The film dives into its subject matter without plugging its nose or holding its breath, relying on the audience to find their own way to the top. From the outset, gay marriage has been legalized by the courts. However, a public outcry has led to a legislative discussion over it's merits, ultimately ending in a vote on an amendment that would alter the Massachusetts Constitution in the same way that California's own Constitution would be endangered five years later. After the speeches are given and rallies coordinated, the amendment passed by the narrowest of margins - five votes.

BUT WAIT!

In Mass., for the amendment to be signed into law it must be voted on (and approved) twice, the second being at a Constitutional Convention in a little over a year! With little time to prepare, the gay and lesbian community begin mobilizing, setting up knowledge bases of operation throughout the state, and even bringing in openly gay aspiring politicians to run for office in battleground areas that had previously been in favor of the amendment. In the meantime, same-sex couples still enjoy the ability to marry, under the original judicial ruling. But as time winds down, the pressure mounts for both sides of the debate. Tempers flare, alliances are bent and sometimes broken, and victory seems to ebb and flow with the Atlantic.

What is truly remarkable about Saving Marriage is the emotion it evokes, rightly or wrongly. Even 'unbiased' documentaries often seek an angle, or hit on a feel-good theme that they use to carry the film along. With Saving Marriage, there is no charade, only the emotionally-charged stories of those living through the history as it happens. Without direct narration, the film's voice comes from those involved. There is the openly gay political newcomer who is challenging the old regime by making a push for the legislature. There is the activist and the lobbyist who work tirelessly to keep the issue of same-sex marriage on the minds of everyone she can, and there are of course the couples. Couples who, previously, had never entertained a serious notion of marriage, because it was simply not available. Couples who grow to learn that they can write their own future, and sign their own name to a piece of paper that will bind them together in love, forever.

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A wonder, soaring achievement of documentary filmmaking, Saving Marriage is a true champion in the league of cause-focused film-making, and is an odds-on favorite to move you to tears. And in light of Proposition 8 and the looming ballot ahead of us all, Saving Marriage has come to be more important than ever. And so it seem, in five short years, the past truly has become prologue.