‘Same Sex America’ Returns [Review]

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Same Sex America returned to the big screen in the city where history was made ten years ago: Cambridge, Massachusetts. The documentary by Henry Corra, which follows seven diverse same sex Massachusetts couples from emotional struggles to the altar (or not), also shows the argument of those opposed to the concept of same sex marriage.

On Wednesday, the 10th anniversary screening of Same Sex America brought a crowd on a stormy, chilly fall evening at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge. The 90-minute film was at turns poignant and humorous, as audience members were brought back to a sense of time standing still, as they remembered waiting repeatedly for decisions about the future of their lives.

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Families featured in 2004 film ‘Same Sex America,’ at 10th Anniversary Screening

The audience members included three couples and an activist who were featured in the documentary. Two of the couples have children. One is no longer together, having chosen not to marry even though they fully stood behind the movement for same sex marriage. One of those featured in the film, Audrey Roth, said that she “Never thought there would be the possibility of even civil unions in our lifetime.”

In the documentary, one of the members of the couple, Robin Einzig said, “If it does get revoked, it will happen somewhere else. In another 20 years, people will think nothing of it. Twenty years ago people wouldn’t even come out of the closet. When my daughter is 40, this will be a better world. The world is going to change.”

The film Same Sex America returns to the screen some of the historical movers and shakers of the movement. These included Mary Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and Arline Isaacson, lobbyist then of the Mass Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. It also included Byron Rushing, State Representative and Majority Whip, who, to a standing room only crowd, strongly urged the legislators not to turn back the clock.

In the beginning of the film, a religious right leader speaks to her followers on a bus traveling to the State House in Boston. There, thousands of demonstrators on both sides speak out about the issue as lawmakers decide the fates of same sex couples and their families. The opponents to same sex marriage spoke about the negative effect on the children and of opening a Pandora’s Box to incest and polygamy.

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Visible love: 4-year-old Phoebe in the 2004 film, with her parents, Audrey and Robin

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ordered the state to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples on May 17, 2004. On February 11, 2004, the State Legislature convened in Boston to consider a proposed amendment to ban same sex marriage.

The battle in Massachusetts was long and hard-won. Prevention of same sex marriage was law at the federal level with the 1996 passing of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). George W. Bush was President, and he stated that he would put in place a federal ban on gay marriage because of the “confusion” being created. With Republican Mitt Romney as Massachusetts Governor, there was plenty of repeated opposition to the change afoot.

One of the activists featured in the film said tearfully, “My parents are on the other side. God made me, too. God made me in His image. It’s not wrong.” The film included oration from the late Reverend Professor Peter J. Gomes of Harvard University, who said:

Somehow we are uniquely different. Thank God we are!
I do not wish to take my moral signals from Alabama or Mississippi.
We alone have the Mayflower Compact…
We set the mainstream.
It is not about polygamy
It is not about the defense of marriage
It is not about the judiciary
It is not about religion
It is about nothing more and nothing less than civil rights!
To this amendment, just say no!

With less than 72 hours to go before the deadline, Governor Mitt Romney introduced emergency legislation to block the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s order from going into effect on May 17th. This was due to high profile opposition to same sex marriage. Alan Keyes, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations gave a speech at Faneuil Hall in Boston, saying, “You do not have the rule of law. You have the tyranny of the judges, the tyranny of the judges, the tyranny of the judges.”

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Sarah dances gleefully in the film at the prospect of the wedding of her parents, Jon and Paul

A federal judge prevented the last minute effort to block same sex ceremonies. The response was explosive on both sides. One of the couples filmed for the documentary stated that the decision felt surreal, hard to internalize because I was “so used to our relationships being shot down all the time.” Cory Atkins, Massachusetts State Representative, said to a crowd at the Massachusetts State House, “Thank you for making the Massachusetts constitution a living, breathing document. This is truly a moment in history.”

Since the 2013 Windsor decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), there are now 32, states plus Washington, D.C., in which same sex couples are permitted to marry. Eleven additional states are in appeals courts. This means that soon more than 64 percent of the U.S. will reside in a state with this freedom.

Almost 59 percent of the U.S. lives in states that issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. In the words of Robin Einzig, one of those who spoke at the return of the Same Sex America screening, “Next year we expect to have just two to three states without the freedom to marry!”

Review by Fern Remedi-Brown

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Top photo by the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism