In his opening statement at the 2010 trial concerning California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage, Ted Olson prefaced his defense of marriage equality for all, regardless of orientation, by explaining why he believed marriage is the most important relationship in life.
He said that the American marriage institution had gradually shed ‘irrational, unwarranted, and discriminatory restrictions and limitations that reflected the biases, prejudices or stereotypes of the past.’ These changes, according to Olson, have given a renewed sense of vitality to the value of marriage in contemporary society. He added:
‘As the witnesses in this case will elaborate, marriage is central to life in America. It promotes mental, physical and emotional health and the economic strength and stability of those who enter into a marital union. It is the building block of family, neighborhood and community. The California Supreme Court has declared that the right to marry is of “central importance to an individual’s opportunity to live a happy, meaningful, and satisfying life as a full member of society.”’
It’s been nearly two years since U.S. district court Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Prop 8 in Perry vs. Schwarzenegger and less than 60 days ago, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Walker’s ruling, cleared the way to bring the case before the U.S. Supreme Court during its term which begins Oct. 1.
As the nation waits for the final dramatic chapter to begin in this legal case, ‘8’ a play by Academy-Award-winning writer Dustin Lance Black distills much of the theatrical energy which infused the 2010 trial in a compacted 90-minute frame. It captures the truthful record of the hearings with the words of the plaintiffs and defendants as well as their respective attorneys, expert witnesses and Judge Walker.
And, on August 4 and 5, two years to the day of Walker’s historic ruling, Plan-B Theatre, with the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), will stage a script reading of Black’s work with a cast of 20 and a post-show discussion with Black, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), who, on July 7, became the first active member of the U.S. Congress to marry his same-sex partner.
The readings will take place in the Jeanne Wagner Theatre of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday, Aug. 4, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 5, at 2 p.m.
After each performance, Black and Frank will discuss the issue in a panel moderated by Brandie Balken of Equality Utah. Proceeds from the benefit will be divided between the two organizations, with 75 percent going to support Plan-B in its upcoming 2012-2013 season and the remainder to AFER, which was among the plaintiffs in the Perry case. Some 200 readings of the play have been staged around the world. (Photo: Frank marries his partner, Jim Ready. Courtesy: Fotique)
The Utah premiere of ‘8,’ – which, incidentally, steers clear of mentioning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – is significant not only because it is a piece of living history and it brings the playwright to its performances for only the third time in the work’s history, according to Jerry Rapier, producing director, but also because of the breadth and depth of experiences among the 22-member ensemble of actors and narrators who will participate.
For example, Rapier married his partner, actor Kirt Bateman, on July 24, 2011 in New York, the first day that same-sex marriages were legal in the state. There are familiar faces from previous Plan-B productions and playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett as well as local media personalities and journalists including Bill Allred, Doug Fabrizio, and Terry Wood. Reed Cowan, whose documentary about Prop 8 was premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was narrated by Black, also will perform.
And, Rapier makes it clear that, incidental politics aside, ‘8’ celebrates and reminds audiences of precisely the virtuous values of marriage that Olson and his colleague, David Boies, advanced in their successful peroration on the plaintiffs’ behalf. Plan-B’s blog recently has been featuring a diverse series of posts from married couples — straight, and gay — whose words echo characteristics that defined the winning argument: principled, humane, calm, smart, broad-minded, pragmatic, courteous, and inclusive. (Photo: Jerry Rapier and Kirt Bateman, July 24, 2011, New York City)
However, it also must be made clear that Black’s truthful adaptation of the trial’s proceedings naturally amplifies just how lopsidedly the advantages favored the fundamental arguments for marriage equality. It is no small natural irony that David Blankenhorn, one of only two witnesses to testify in support of Prop 8 (and whose testimony is featured in Black’s script), changed his mind recently in a New York Times op-ed column published June 23. He wrote:
‘For me, the most important is the equal dignity of homosexual love. I don’t believe that opposite-sex and same-sex relationships are the same, but I do believe, with growing numbers of Americans, that the time for denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships is over. Whatever one’s definition of marriage, legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness.’
And, as Black’s film screenplay for ‘Milk,’ which earned the young writer his first Academy Award, framed the historic importance of the long-game approach in the battle for social equality, ‘8’ likewise will remind audiences of the historical marker for how the movement for marriage equality gained momentum even while it suffered one of its most disappointing losses at California polls in 2008.
As Rapier notes, six states (Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont) now recognize same-sex marriage, along with the District of Columbia and two native-American tribes (Coquille and Suquamish) tribes. Thirteen other states have either civil unions, broad domestic partnerships, or limited parterships in place for same-sex couples.
The November presidential elections will include same-sex marriage referenda or initiatives in Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Likewise, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) faces a potential U.S. Supreme Court showdown in the upcoming term as well. And, President Obama’s public support for marriage equality has galvanized the inevitable sense of when, not if, the goal will be achieved.
The cast includes Bill Allred, Tobin Atkinson, Kirt Bateman, Matthew Ivan Bennett, Kim Blackett, Daisy Blake, Anita Booher, Jason Bowcutt, Reed Cowan, April Fossen, Mark Fossen, Jonathan Scott McBride, Jay Perry, Topher Rasmussen, Teresa Sanderson, Aaron Swenson, Logan Tarantino, Jason Tatom and Sarah Young.
In addition, the Rose Wagner lobby will have available an exhibit of 16 photographs by Frank’s married partner, Jim Ready, a photographer and owner of awning and sail company in Maine.
One of the images displayed (above) feature the late Dr. Frank Kameny, a pioneering gay activist, in the Oval Office when President Obama signed an executive order expanding benefits for partners of gay federal employees.
The other features U.S. Rep. Frank with two men celebrating their fourth wedding anniversary in Boston who were finally able to marry in Massachusetts after many decades together.
Tickets are $25. For more information, see here or call 801-355-ARTS.
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