Last night, more than 30,000 people tuned in to watch a free, live presentation of 8, a play written from the transcripts of testimony during the Perry v Schwarzenegger trial. The finished script was written by Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award winning writer who turned in scripts for Milk and last year’s J. Edgar. The play was directed by Meathead himself, Rob Reiner.
The play’s format was a simple layout. A judicial bench was the centerpiece, with Brad Pitt presiding over the trial as Judge Vaughn Walker. A dozen chairs were arranged on each side with a simple courtroom witness chair in the middle. The understated set design paved the way for the actors to give their stellar performances.
The cast was a who’s who in Hollywood stars. Pitt was joined by George Clooney and Martin Sheen, who played David Boies and Theodore Olson, the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case. Boies and Olson were famous for their battle against each other in the 2000 Supreme Court trial of Bush v Gore. Here, the renowned conservative joined forces with the premiere liberal attorney to fight for marriage equality.
The plaintiffs themselves were portrayed by Christine Lahti of Law and Order: SVU fame and Halloween Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, plus Glee’s “Mr. Schue,” Matthew Morrison and the newly-out White Collar lead Matt Bomer as Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo.
While the play was an all-star cast, it was clearly the story of these two couples and the attorneys who pled their case. Perry and Stier raised twin sons, while Katami and Zarrillo have held off starting a family until they can have the permanence of being married. They’ve been together for nine years.
For Gleeks (for the uninitiated, Gleeks are fans of the hit Fox TV show, Glee), the night had several bright points. Morrison was joined on the stage by fresh-faced Chris Colfer and the deliciously gruff Jane Lynch. Both Colfer and Lynch had shining moments in the play.
Colfer portrayed a young man who was coerced to attend NARTH for two years. His parents forced him to go through their program run by Joe Nicolosi in a vain attempt to change his sexuality. Colfer brought to life all of the emotion and struggle that goes through the pressure that the witness would have been under. When asked if it had the desired affect, Colfer deadpanned the response: “I’m as gay as the day I first went in.”
Lynch’s performance as Maggie Gallagher was especially entertaining. If you can imagine a Sue Sylvester/Gallagher combination, then you’ll have an idea how well it worked.
Kevin Bacon portrayed lead defendant attorney Charles Cooper, who had his moments of strength during the trial, but made the claim that he didn’t need to provide any evidence to support their position. Interestingly, the far right wing Alliance Defense Fund — one of the leading organizations that opposes marriage equality — presented only two witnesses at the trial.
Ultimately, it was the defendants’ witness David Blankenhorn, played by John C. Reilly — called in as an expert to oppose marriage equality — that presented the most compelling case for marriage equality. His initial testimony claimed that allowing same-sex marriage would be harmful to children, but when cross examined by Boies, he said that marriage equality would actually benefit children in same-sex households that are married. Further, he affirmed an earlier statement that “we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before.”
Martin Sheen’s performance as Theodore Olson that elevated the play to its highest point. His final closing arguments were delivered with sheer perfection. The final closing arguments of the case as presented were exact copies from the transcript:
That was all of the evidence in this case: Supreme Court decisions, testimony by the people affected by Proposition 8, and eight of the leading experts in the world.
And then there was Mr. Blankenhorn, who really sort of came over to our side.
And it does have to do with the — if you believe that it’s a fundamental right to marriage, not fundamental right to be married in June or fundamental right to be married to certain types of people, if it’s a fundamental right to marriage, it’s strict scrutiny.
But, in any event, you have to have a reason. And you have to have a reason that’s real. Not a post hoc justification. Not speculation. Not built on stereotypes. And not hypothetical. That’s what the Supreme Court decisions tell us.
We don’t have that here. We have a decision that takes — and there isn’t any question — a group of people who have been victims of discrimination, who are a discreet minority, who have identifiable characteristics, their sexual orientation, and we want to foreclose them from participating in the most fundamental relationship in life.
Now, rational basis, strict scrutiny, or some kind of intermediate scrutiny tells you those are basic facts. You are discriminating against a group of people. You are causing them harm. You are excluding them from an important part of life. And you have to have a good reason for that.
And I submit, at the end of the day, “I don’t know” and “I don’t have to put any evidence,” with all due respect to Mr. Cooper, does not cut it. It does not cut it when you are taking away the constitutional rights, basic human rights and human decency from a large group of individuals, and you don’t know why they are a threat to your definition of a particular institution.
The combination, as I said before, of those 14 Supreme Court decisions that tell us how valuable marriage is, the Romer case that says you can’t take away rights and make them unconstitutional to — impossible to recover except by amending your state constitution, and the Lawrence case that says that the sexual orientation of individuals in their private conduct is a protected right, you cannot then, in the face of all those decisions by the United States Supreme Court, say to these individuals, “We are going to take away the constitutional right to liberty, privacy, association, and sexual intimacy that we tell you that you have, and then we will now use that as a basis for not allowing you the freedom to marry.”
That is not acceptable. It’s not acceptable under our Constitution. And Mr. Blankenhorn is absolutely right.
The day that we end that, we will be more American.
The arguments and the testimony presented during the Proposition 8 trial included nearly every one of the claims that are made by right wing, anti-gay groups throughout the country. Whether it’s on TV, in print, or on their blogs, every one of those claims were brought up in the trial, and systematically pulled apart under oath.
As Boies put it, “the witness stand, under oath, is a lonely place to lie.”
I’ve read some of the transcripts before, but putting them to light in this format is as profound as it is is powerful. Here, the testimony is clear, concise, and vivid. There’s no doubt that the trial was conducted thoroughly over its twelve days of testimony, and Walker’s final ruling demonstrated judicial prudence, clear statements of fact, and has already passed one full judicial review.
Boies said later during an interview that “we put fear and prejudice on trial. And fear and prejudice lost.”
Our journey to marriage equality is still underway, but with testimony like we’ve seen in this trial, that journey will continue on a steady pace until we reach that promised land of fairness.
Talk has already begun that this dramatization is the Inherit the Wind of this generation. I’m inclined to agree. In short, the play was sheer perfection.
Watch the full performance, which will be available on YouTube for only one week: