Washington Jewish Film Festival
Sunday, May 21
AFI Silver Theatre
8633 Colesville Rd., Md
Wednesday, May 24
1529 16th St., N.W.
The tense final days leading up to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling in 2015 is chronicled in “The Freedom to Marry,” a documentary film from Eddie Rosenstein that screens twice in the coming days in the D.C. area.
“The Freedom to Marry” spotlights key figures in the same-sex marriage movement including Freedom to Marry Founder Evan Wolfson, National Campaign Manager Marc Solomon, marriage plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse and Mary Bonauto, a civil rights attorney from GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders).
Rosenstein, a straight ally, says the idea for the documentary came to him while talking to his teen children about changing the world. After they insisted “nobody actually does anything,” he remembered Wolfson, a neighborhood kid he had grown up with in Pittsburgh.
“My mom would always call and say Evan is on ‘Face the Nation,’” Rosenstein says. “When the moment came that the Supreme Court was actually going to take the case, I realized that this was game day. This could be the moment where they either summit or implode.”
After reaching out to Wolfson asking to film a documentary, Rosenstein was on the field shooting two days later.
Wolfson’s upbringing in an ordinary Jewish household, coming out to his parents and his growing dedication to the fight for same-sex marriage, prep the scene for the founding of Freedom to Marry. The film launches into a brief overview of gay rights history, including the 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court case followed by the Defense of Marriage Act, before settling into the nitty gritty of the more recent fight for same-sex marriage when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 that same-sex couples deserved the right to legally wed. Solomon, who will appear for a Q&A after the May 24 screening, also shares his story from coming out to his parents to joining the Freedom to Marry team.
Cameras follow the Freedom to Marry crew as they coach LGBT people on how to have conversations with their straight friends and family on why marriage is important to them. The group gives surveys to straight people to find the reasons they believe gay couples want marriage. After discovering the answers were more for benefits than love and compassion, the organization switches gears to create a media campaign that shows gay couples showcasing loving behavior.
In a similar vein to the campaign, Rosenstein introduces Supreme Court marriage plaintiffs DeBoer and Rowse who are raising their adopted children together.
“Once I met April and Jane I realized it’s very difficult not to find them endearing,” Rosenstein says. “It helps to have for people who hadn’t thought much about same-sex marriage but were open to the conversation. It’s nice to have for those people that when you meet them (DeBoer and Rowse) at first they go, ‘Oh they’re that couple. I’m not into that.’ But then you get to see their story and it turns your expectations on your head.”
Rosenstein acknowledges that this couple is just one of many who were fighting for same-sex marriage but says he saw their story as a good example to put a face to the cause.
While Freedom to Marry does the ground work, Bonauto has been working to prepare her oral arguments before the Supreme Court. Bonauto is noticeably nervous in the film as she drops her suitcase while entering the building. Later, she listens back to her arguments against the Supreme Court, pausing the audio every few seconds to make a critical remark about her performance.
Bonauto’s self-doubt was another humanizing moment in the film, according to Rosensten.
“For me, just understanding the weight of that responsibility and the humanity that it takes to go and argue that case. The bravery,” Rosenstein says. “Mary is like Luke Skywalker who, like any great hero, really wants to shuck the responsibility himself, would rather not have to do this, but are compelled. There’s no choice. They have to do it. She had to strap on her helmet and go in and win. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to stand up and fight like she fought and I can understand her doubts.”
While the documentary has a happy ending with the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, Rosenstein says its message is still needed now more than ever with Trump in power.
“This is a primer on how to move hearts and minds and how to get that done even against the largest obstacles. If you look at where gays were in the early ‘80s, and if you’d said that this was possible, everybody would have thought that was ridiculous. When we talk to immigration groups now they feel as pushed out of public love and as discriminated against as gays did in the ‘80s. So this is encouragement that it can be done. At the same time, this is still a lesson to many people that, that conversation still needs to happen.”