Gay marriage finds friendly home at Sundance, but only part of the story told

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18 2014 10:00 p.m. MST

Tony Milner, left, Matthew Barraza, center, are shown with their son Jesse. The couple and their son attended a reception Saturday 18, 2014, in celebration of the HBO Documentary "The Case Against 8." The reception also feted several Utah couples like Milner and Barraza who got married late last year after a federal court ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

Nekesa Mumbi Moody, Associated Press

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PARK CITY - Advocates of same-sex marriage came to the Sundance Film Festival Saturday afternoon in support of the estimated 1,300 gay and lesbian couples married in Utah, and to fete a film that promotes their cause.

In one of the many receptions on the crowded main street of this city swamped by the Sundance Film Festival, these supporters found a welcome audience advocating one perspective of a hotly contested national issue. In the same-sex marriage debate, culture, law and democracy are each having their impact.

At Saturday's gathering, billed as a wedding reception for those gay couples newly married and sponsored by HBO and by the Human Rights Campaign, a group which advocates for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals, the message was: same-sex marriage is a fundamental right.

"This is what we are about as Americans,” said Ted Olson, the solicitor general under George W. Bush, one of the legal team to challenge California’s Proposition 8 in court. He spoke on the stage with co-counsel David Boies, also part of the team to challenge the California law.

“We have the same aspirations, the same fears, the same right to be treated decently and with respect in our neighborhoods and our jobs,” he said, to sustained applause from more than a hundred individuals in the packed bistro.

Hollywood may be contributing to a change in national attitudes toward gays, lesbians and marriage. Yet according to other national legal experts not present here at Sundance, neither law nor democracy currently favor the same-sex marriage cause.

"States have always had the primary role on families and on matters concerning husbands and wives," said Ed Meese, the Attorney General under Ronald Reagan, in a telephone interview. "In no way do I think Proposition 8 violates the Constitution."

Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. The other 33 states support a definition of marriage as between a man and woman. Each of those 33 states, including Utah, made those decisions through a democratic process of law or a constitutional amendment.

For the advocates of gay marriage here at Sundance, there's only one way though this barrier: a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning democratic decision in the name of one understanding of human rights.

California Referendum

That was the message at a reception celebrating Saturday’s premiere here of “The Case Against 8,” a documentary about California’s 2008 referendum declaring that marriage shall be between a man and a woman.

The law, an amendment to the California Constitution, immediately became a lightning rod for controversy, including protests targeted against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many Mormons, and others of faith, contributed funds and knocked doors in an effort to pass the measure.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, took delight in being able to hold Saturday's celebration in Utah, noting "the fact that the Proposition 8 case was brought to us Californians by an institution right here in the state of Utah,” he said. “And we celebrate a federal court victory right here in Utah, and we celebrate the more than 1,300 couples that were able to get married before the stay was put in place.

Likewise, in 2010, another Sundance film, "8: The Mormon Proposition," highlighted these efforts by Latter-day Saints and harshly criticized the law and its passage.

Now, "The Case Against 8" picks up where the prior film left off. This new saga, scheduled for national release on HBO in June, traces the legal saga to overturn California's Proposition 8.

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