Recently, I saw the documentary Freedom to Marry and was thoroughly underwhelmed. A part comes from my own doubts around the now finished fight for marriage equality but another part comes from just how predictable the documentary was. Jay Weissberg reviewed the film for Variety and wrote that:
Despite a small theatrical run, “The Freedom to Marry” feels designed for TV in every way: It does its job more or less efficiently (we could do without Wolfson’s parents’ friends talking about what a bright boy he was) in cookie-cutter documentary fashion. Rosenstein, a childhood acquaintance of Wolfson’s, is unable to disguise the artificiality of certain “spontaneous” conversations before the cameras.
And that’s exactly what it felt like. The message and theme of the documentary oversaturated the film in a way that felt like you were being hit over the head with what the filmmakers wanted you to take away from it. That doesn’t mean it was completely terrible or anything – there were some great moments and the film does hark back to how gay people have been treated in the United States. But I ultimately left the theater feeling underwhelmed by the production and forgotten by the larger LGBTQ+ community. (That last part isn’t necessarily tied to the documentary and is a larger trend that I’ve personally felt in the past few months.)
The film felt like the definition of respectability politics for LGBTQ+ folks and homonormativity. The gay folks interviewed were, in large part, lawyers and nurses with families and nice houses. Not many of those on screen were people of color (some of the few who did say things onscreen were on the “other” side of this issue – an interesting trend from the producers of the film).
The fight for marriage was a hard one for many and I can understand why it became the face of the Gay Rights Movement™. It’s sexy, an easy solution* to many other problems, and for the more privileged LGBTQ+ folks, one of the last remaining barriers to being just like everyone else. Selling the notion that “we’re just like you!” to straight folk is possible in the fight for marriage – who doesn’t love a cute family with tiny children?
Maybe I’m just a cynical asshole but I just didn’t feel the pride and joy that I know the documentary wanted me to feel at the end. To be completely honest, I felt a little sad because I knew that the same sort of strong organizing and money that the marriage fight gained probably wouldn’t be used for more marginalized queer folks who are facing a plethora of other issues. And I kept thinking about all the people that were left behind in the marriage fight.
*By easy solution to many problems, I’m referring to the fact that many have said that marriage would open up options for health care (as you can join your partner’s health care plan), adopt children together, and make inheriting your partner’s things after death easier. It would also allow for couples to visit each other in the hospital, something that was rarely afforded to LGBTQ+ couples during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
But marriage isn’t a universal solution nor does it actually fix any of those problems. Marriage doesn’t bring health care to couples that don’t have it in the first place and for some, marriage would only make financial life more difficult. (Elaine Maag and Robert Cherry have a piece about how in some ways, the government penalizes low income families for getting married.) Yasmir Nair wrote about the secret history of gay marriage, bringing up the argument of hospital visitations.
Ultimately though, I’d definitely say that this documentary is a miss. It felt staged and predictable in ways that made it exceptionally dull. I admit that I went into the film with some reservations but even with that, I was very underwhelmed. Personally, I think my time is better spent watching documentaries like Major! or shows like When We Rise.