One of the major surprises of the struggle for same-sex marriage in the US was that one of the reddest States of all got it on their Statute books a whole year before the Supreme Court made it legal throughout the entire country.
Utah is still the one US state where not only Church and Government are so intrinsically intertwined, but the fact it is with a singular church that makes it even more toxic than most. The Mormons (also known as The Church of Latter Day Saints) not only have such a stranglehold on all the reigns of power in the State, but they also used their vast financial resources to successfully bankroll the campaign for California’s Prop 8 to make same-sex illegal again.
This documentary, the debut directing gig of Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilson, tells the extraordinary story of how a few individuals and couples from the local LGBTQ community in Utah overcame the sheer size and might of the Mormons and won the most unexpected victory.
The story starts with Mark Lawrence a middle-aged gay man who took it upon himself to start the journey for same sex marriage. A charismatic oddball and totally inexperienced activist, he used his sheer chutzpah to get it all off the ground, but in the end this same uncontrollable enthusiasm turned him to a liability with the campaign when it finally started to take shape.
Lawrence’s first bit of good luck however was when the small Salt Lake City lawyers of Maglebury & Greenwood agreed to take the case on. Senior partner Peggy Tomsic had personal reasons for becoming the Lead Counsel as she wanted to be able to marry too, and be able to legally adopt her son.
They chose the plaintiff couples carefully and so by the time they had their day in Court in front of U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s they knew they had prepared well. However none of ever expected that only 9 months later Judge Shelby would rule in their favor. It definitely took the Attorney General even more surprised for as LGBTQ couples were immediatly rushing to get married, he simply overlooked to ask the Court for a Stay in the ruling.
It was a major wake up call for The Mormons who had always been used to getting their own way in Utah. They had unlimited resources so they started mounting even more innocuous ant-gay campaigns, and hired the most expensive set of (Mormon) lawyers when the case went to the Court of Appeal
They lost the battle and the judgement also made sex-sex legal in other States in the 10th Circuit. and in a very mean spirited gesture the Church responded by excommunicating homosexuals and denying baptism to their children.
Mark Lawrence also had a tough time celebrating the victory too as he been naively convinced that the struggle should have remained a local grassroots issue. He therefoee felt betrayed when a LGBTQ national organisation stepped up to support Peggy Tomsic’s heavy load. As much as one feels for Lawrence’s disappointment, in this day and the age it is foolhardy to believe that David’s can always defeat Goliaths unaided.
Tuckett and Wilson’s film documents a very important part in our recent history. Not just for the achievements made, but detailing the struggle against a whole regime of homophobic forces that should never ever forget as we continue our journey for full equal rights.