Online extra: Wedding Bell Blues: 8 play to premiere in September
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black has written a play chronicling the trial in Perry v. Brown, the federal lawsuit over California's Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban.
8 will premiere at New York City's Eugene O'Neill Theatre on Monday, September 19 for a one-night only fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. AFER is bankrolling the federal court challenge.
Black, who won his Oscar for his work on Milk, the biopic about the slain gay civil rights icon Harvey Milk, is being joined by Tony Award-winning actor and director Joe Mantello on this latest project.
Black, an AFER founding board member, based 8 on trial transcripts, first-hand observations, and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families.
A statement from AFER said "High profile and award-winning actors" would have roles in the play. Casting will be announced soon.
Following the New York debut, AFER and the group Broadway Impact will license 8 to schools and community organizations nationwide in hopes of spurring "action, dialogue, and understanding," AFER stated.
"People need to witness what happened in the Prop 8 trial, if for no other reason than to see inequality and discrimination unequivocally rejected in a court of law where truth and facts matter," Black stated. "... The goal of 8 is to show the world that marriage equality is a basic constitutional right and that those who would deny this basic freedom from loving, committed couples have only vitriol and baseless hyperbole to fall back on."
The play is framed by the trial's closing arguments in June 2010, but also features other arguments and testimony from both sides in the case. One scene includes the admission David Blankenhorn, a witness of Prop 8 supporters, that "we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before."
AFER filed the case, originally known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, in U.S. District Court for Northern California to overturn Prop 8. California voters passed the measure in November 2008.
U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional in August 2010. The measure's proponents are appealing that decision. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to reach a decision this fall.
The case was renamed after former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was termed out of office and current Democratic Governor Jerry Brown was elected in November 2010. Like Schwarzenegger, Brown has refused to defend Prop 8.
Although court proceedings were open to the public and transcripts have been available, video of the trial hasn't been released due to a federal protective order. AFER's attorneys have filed a motion for the unedited recordings to be made available to everyone.
"Viewed side-by-side there is simply no question that there was only one decision the court could have reached," AFER senior project director Adam Umhoefer stated. "The moment we knew the trial would not be publicly broadcast we immediately began planning to find a way to show the world what happened in this historic case. This play and our partnership with Broadway Impact allow us to do exactly that."
Proceeds from the premiere will go directly to the fight for full federal marriage equality and to support educational efforts on the freedom to marry nationwide.
In trying to use testimony from the trial to educate people, the play is similar to Testimony: Equality on Trial, a project the California-based Courage Campaign released last year. As part of that effort, marriage equality advocates have been encouraged to use the transcripts in visual demonstrations of the trial.
But Courage Campaign Chair Rick Jacobs said in an interview this week that the reenactment phase of the campaign "didn't go very well. We gave it a shot, but people were not very excited" about participating. He said that's why he's all the more enthused about 8.
"It's a great opportunity for people to go see something as opposed to having to go act it out," Jacobs said.
Testimony: Take a Stand, where people tape their personal equality stories, launched May 24 and is "going very, very well," Jacobs said. Courage Campaign has received over 300 videos from people around the country, he said.
Jacobs was preparing to fly to Washington, D.C., for another marriage-related matter. He's set to appear this morning (Tuesday, July 19) with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) to discuss proposed legislation to repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act at a National Press Club news conference. A congressional hearing on the issue is scheduled for Wednesday.
Wedding Bell Blues is an online column looking at various issues related to the marriage equality fight in California and elsewhere. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at mailto:or call (415) 861-5019. Wedding Bell Blues appears every other Tuesday.