Though its legalities are often obscured by romantic filigree, wedlock is one of the most conservative institutions, legally and culturally, in human society — a codified set of limitations and rights reserved for two people willing to merge their fates and their property. For decades, lesbian and gay people, reviled by many for supposed deviance, have wanted in. In his documentary The Freedom to Marry, Eddie Rosenstein demonstrates just how long it’s been: The first time a same-sex couple applied for a marriage license in the U.S. was 1970.
Rosenstein introduces us to individuals key to the ensuing struggle, including the ordinary folk who bravely served as plaintiffs. But the film’s stars are two brilliant legal minds — uber-mensch Evan Wolfson (who wrote his 1983 Harvard Law thesis on marriage equality and forged a movement changing hearts and minds) and self-effacing legal pugilist Mary Bonauto of GLAAD (who argued Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case in which the Supreme Court finally declared state same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional).
Rosenstein makes this a suspenseful legal yarn and an essential history lesson. But it could also provide a blueprint for the continuing civil rights challenges of our time that, like marriage, represent conservative ideals being denied to friends, family, and neighbors. Intricately threaded through Wolfson and Bonauto’s disputations and activism is their belief in humanity — and their confidence that when people simply get to know each other, it makes all the difference, in court and in life.
The Freedom to Marry
Directed by Eddie Rosenstein
Opens March 3, Village East Cinema