The Gay Marriage Thing: interview with the Director

The Gay Marriage Thing September 15th, 2008

The Gay Marriage Thing is an independent film about, well, the gay marriage thing. (Watch the trailer here)

We spoke to the film’s Director, Stephanie Higgins, about why marriage is so important to some gay people, why civil unions are a bad idea, and how her own thoughts about marriage changed as a result of making the film.

Could you describe in a few sentences what the film is about?

The Gay Marriage Thing is an “un-documentary” about the politics, the piety, and the people embroiled in - and affected by - the heated debate over same-sex marriage.

Using a refreshingly atypical style of cinematic storytelling, the film explores the human emotions behind the signs on both sides of the debate.

Why did the two women in the film - Lorre and Gayle - choose to have their lives documented in this way?

Lorre and I had been colleagues for several years and a few months after shooting began, she came on as Executive Producer. Later into the production I was searching in vain for one gay couple’s story. One night I sat racking my brain over the long-term couple I imagined in the film, a couple whom the audience could really get to know. Suddenly, a light bulb went off. I called Lorre to ask if they would be in the film.

Coincidently, Loree and Gayle had just finished a conversation about how their lives were paralleling the journey toward marriage that I wanted to portray. They had just that moment decided to open up their lives to me - and to the world - in an effort to help do what they could do, just by being themselves.

What is the central message of the film that you want people watching it to come away with?

The film places discussions about humanity over politics and religion. As a director, I felt it was more important for me to portray the emotions on all sides of this issue instead of ‘documenting’ events and laying out the points of a debate.

I think the politicising of equal marriage is dangerous because it removes people’s feelings and faces, and replaces them with signs and ‘talking points’ - a very dangerous trend in our society as a whole.

Is the film specifically targeted at gay audiences?

On the surface, The Gay Marriage Thing appears to be targeted at gay audiences and it absolutely IS a film for gay audiences. And they love it!

However, the real target audience for the film is the FAMILY of gay and lesbian audiences. I made the film for LGBT people to bring home to their families and watch together.

It’s a film that’s easy for gay and straight, pro marriage and against, religious and non-religious to watch together. It’s a film to watch with that uncle, grandparent or parent who might love you and your partner as a couple, but who just don’t think you should be married.

The film explores the feelings that surface when someone you love reveals an idea or statement that changes your perspective of them completely. The Gay Marriage Thing is a jumping off point for discussions that continue well after the credits roll.

Why did you decide to make the film now? Was the timing down to personal or political circumstances?

The timing of the film was both personal and political. The day the court in Massachusetts ruled it was illegal NOT to allow gays and lesbians to marry, the news hit me like a ton of bricks.

At that moment, I realised I’d never thought about getting married. Before that day, it never seemed like an option, and I thought I’d always live a very different life than that of my parents and grandparents. That moment motivated me to get involved in the only way I knew how as a filmmaker: to tell a story.

At first, I thought I was making a film to help the political battle in this state. But as I saw how the issue was used to divide people in the 2004 US presidential election, I realized this film had a larger purpose.

And now, a few months away from getting married to the most amazing girl in the world, the reasons for making the film come full circle from trying to help other couples attain the freedom to marry, to helping protect, and extend federally, my own marriage rights.

I understand that you spoke to people who were against gay marriage too. How strong is the anti-gay marriage lobby in the USA in general, and in Massachusetts in particular?

I felt that for me to make a film vilifying or stereotyping the people who oppose gay marriage would be doing a disservice not only to the cause, but to my art.

There is enough hate in this debate from both sides, and I wanted to add something different to the chorus of voices. I wanted to let both sides talk. Also, as a director, I feel it’s easier these days to tell (and sell) a story of tragedy and hate than it is to tell a positive story with complex emotion and caring.

Did your own views on gay marriage change as a result of having made the film?

One of the reasons I began the journey of making this film was to find a logical argument against equal marriage that could convince ME gay marriage should not be legal.

After interviewing people, hearing legislators and religious leaders and attending protests outside our state house, I realized that ‘logical’ argument didn’t exist. Instead, I found the emotions underlying those arguments, everything from fear to sadness to love.

Some people would argue that we shouldn’t be fighting for gay marriage, because we shouldn’t be trying to copy a heterosexual institution that is based on transferring ownership of a woman from her father to her husband. How would you respond to this?

I would say that everyone is entitled to their opinion and I’ve always said that I respect this point of view. Then I would say the same thing I say to people when they argue against gay marriage from religious perspectives - that the institution of marriage has evolved over some couple thousand years, and it is still evolving.

Is it a perfect institution? No. In this day in age, marriage as an institution attempts to protect families and people who love each other. It meets that goal in some ways and doesn’t in others. But the fact of the matter is, all people should at least have the freedom to choose to enter into it.

I think, however, the larger point here is not whether we are fighting to copy heterosexual marriage, but that if we don’t fight to be included in this institution, we stand by and allow sanctioned homophobia to continue to permeate throughout our other institutions and our culture.

By having the freedom to choose whether to participate in the institution of marriage, our relationships are automatically lifted to a level of recognition equaling that of straight couples. Just that fact alone begins to change the perception and treatment of our relationships, and of us as gay people.

Obviously the US elections are coming up soon. Who do you think will win, and what impact do you think they will have on the state of gay marriage in the US?

I’d love to be able to predict who will win the presidential election in the US, and I’d love even more to be right!

Personally, I’m tired of our current administration and the direction in which they have taken our country. Listen, no politician is perfect, you don’t get to the highest level of our government without owing certain people and pissing off others.

However, I feel Barack Obama inspires true hope and change and a refreshingly secular perspective that I feel will be good for this country.

One of my fears about the state of gay marriage in the US, regardless of which party is in the White House, is any passage of a federal “Civil Union” bill.

I think that would be one of the worst things that could happen to equal marriage in this country because these new unions (that exist in several states already) are NOT marriage, and for people to get comfortable with them could mean they exist for a long time effectively reinstituting the idea of “separate but equal.”

Now that we’ve got readers interesting in The Gay Marriage Thing, how can they watch it? Is it on tour anywhere or can it be bought on DVD?

The Gay Marriage Thing is available to buy on DVD through the Cinema Guild’s website - there’s a version for home audiences and one for educators. The film is also available for download as a 2 day rental from TLA Video.

We love feedback, so people should feel free to email their thoughts about the film to me at SassyMedia: film@sassymedia.com. We also have a Myspace page.

Many thanks Stephanie.

 comments

  • interesting, when will it be released?

    http://www.queersunited.blogspot.com

    queerunity ∼ September 15th, 2008 5:03 pm
  • the republicans would be soooooo bad for gay marraige!

    Marie ∼ September 16th, 2008 2:02 pm
  • I have seen the film and its an excellent discussion starter. A wonderfully unbiased look at this typically emotional and divided issue.

    Jen ∼ September 29th, 2008 12:51 pm
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