An award-winning documentary about an important battle in the struggle for marriage equality is coming to DVD this week.
“Church & State,” directed by Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox, follows the efforts of Utah activists to overturn the state’s 2004 “Amendment 3,” which not only made same-sex marriage illegal under the state constitution but effectively blocked future legislators from granting same-sex couples any legal rights considered inherent to marriage – such as those affecting medical and end-of-life decisions or rights of inheritance.
The law was challenged in 2013 by three same-sex couples who filed a lawsuit (Kitchen vs. Herbert) against the state. After the US District Court for the District of Utah found in favor of the plaintiffs, the state appealed the decision all the way to the US Supreme Court, which in 2014 declined to hear it – affirming the lower court’s finding that the marriage ban was unconstitutional. A year later, SCOTUS did agree to hear Obergefell v. Hodges, resulting in the affirmation of marriage equality as the law of the land.
The film, described as “the improbable story of a brash, inexperienced gay activist and a tiny Salt Lake City law firm that joined forces to topple Utah’s gay marriage ban,” documents “the bumpy road to equality in Utah” while casting an equal light on both the efforts of the Mormon church to wield it’s heavy influence in state politics and the in-fighting of the LGBTQ community that came close to derailing the entire process.
The documentary hit the festival circuit in 2018; it was the Winner of the Special Jury Award at the American Documentary Film Festival and Film Fund, and the Filmmaker Award at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema, Nice.
In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, filmmaker Tuckett talked about being at the wedding reception of Salt Lake City entrepreneurs Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity (one of the couples behind the lawsuit) when she decided the direction the documentary would take during a conversation with Kitchen’s grandmother.
“She said, ‘You’ve been following this. What made Derek want to sue the state of Utah?’” Tuckett said.
Tuckett’s first thought was of Mark Lawrence, a controversial LGBT activist who had agitated to overturn Amendment 3 but had been eclipsed in the public eye as the legal battle moved forward; that, she said, was when “I knew I had to tell Mark’s story.”
James Huntsman, the film’s producer, agreed, saying, “We had to pick a character to follow this journey through… [Lawrence is] the most interesting character, and the most controversial one.”
“Church and State” is already available VOD on the usual platforms, but it drops on DVD January 21.
You can watch the trailer below.