The movie “The Case Against 8” recently made its way from the independent film festivals to the homosexuality endorsing network of HBO. The movie, directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White, chronicles the legal effort of two couples who practice homosexuality to overturn the will of the people of California as expressed in Proposition 8.
Another pro-gay film marketed by a pro-gay network and cheered by a pro-gay entertainment community. Yawn. But there was something else about this movie, and the larger movement it represents, that really sticks in my side. And that is the banner they now walk under: “Marriage Equality.” It’s a phrase that several folks prattle on about, but no one ever clearly defines. What does it mean? Equality for whom? And equality of what?
Those were the fair questions I felt like asking Ben Cotner, co-director of this “Marriage Equality” triumph, “The Case Against 8.” So I had him on the radio show and pushed him on “Marriage Equality.” Before his PR manager Ryan Collins interrupted and ended our conversation, Ben had stepped in it big time, revealing two critical points that shouldn’t be missed by thinking people (as opposed to those simply interested in mindlessly joining an emotionally driven cultural fad): one, those touting “marriage equality” are guilty of the same kind of moral exclusion when it comes to the definition of marriage that they condemn in others. And two, the entire premise of “equal protection” being denied to gays and lesbians when it comes to marriage is a complete fraud.
Watch, listen or read the transcript as Cotner cooks his own goose on “Marriage Equality”:
Pete Heck: Sure, I’m curious about something. And I’m not trying to be combative on this. I’m earnestly curious. Because this film is being heralded as part of the “Marriage Equality” movement. And I have no problem admitting to you that I have no idea what the crap “Marriage Equality” even means. I, uh, people say it all the time and they put it billboards and bumper stickers, and they write articles about it and they recite it in talking points or when they’re on the political stump. But nobody ever defines it for me. And, and you’ve made this whole movie about it, so I’m counting on you. Can you tell me what “Marriage Equality” is?
Ben Cotner, Director “The Case Against 8”: Well I think in the most basic form it means access to the same legal protections as any other couple so, if the person that you love – if you want to be in a long term relationship with them and you want to have the same legal protections for your family – um, there are thousands and thousands of laws in our country and our state laws and our federal laws that give special rights to people who are married. And uh, I think the “Marriage Equality” movement basically is uh, wanting for people who love someone of the same sex to have the same rights as someone who loves someone of the opposite sex. Um, so if you see people like Paul and Jeff and Kris and Sandy who are the stars of our film, uh you know, Kris and Sandy have four boys. They want to have the same legal protection for their family unit as everyone else.
PH: Sure, okay. This is why, that’s why I want to ask you whether or not you really are a believer in “Marriage Equality” because I think, I, I ask this question sometimes and there are several folks in the gay movement that claim the title, and they drive around and they’ve got the bumper sticker on their car with the little equal sign or they put it on their Facebook page. But frankly I think they’re frauds because they don’t really believe in “Marriage Equality” for everybody. They believe in expanding it to people who love someone of the same sex. In other words, two consenting adults, uh regardless of gender.
But, I guess I have to ask the question, “why two?” Uh, that seems like a moral barrier that’s being erected against people who are, who believe in polyandry, who are polyamorous, who, who believe in polygamy even. Like a Warren Jeffs. And we can keep going down, going down the line: two consenting adults. Well, what defines “adult?” Are we going to allow the government to draw these arbitrary lines in the sand and determine who we can make decisions about who we want to love? That, to me, is what “Marriage Equality” is – you’ve gotta be equal, and, and simply expanding it as your movie chronicles to two people regardless of gender, that’s not full equality.
BC: Sure, uh, well I think you actually – if you watch the film you can see, you can, there’s a big distinction here. We’re talking about applying the same laws to all people. So the idea that people can’t marry multiple people, that’s something that applies to all people. The idea that you can’t marry a minor, something that applies to all people. But the idea that you can’t marry the single person that you love is something that is distinct between same sex couples and heterosexual couples.
PH: Well, sort of. But there used to be and it was, and it would be still applied equally that you can marry anyone who is of the opposite gender who is not a relative and all of those things – so the same thing that you just said about, you know “all these laws apply equally to people: you can only marry one person.” Well, it used to be that you could marry a person who is of the opposite gender. So I guess my question remains. I’ve, I’ve got a story here. You’ve got Patrick Steubing and Susan. These two people – and this is an actual lawsuit, I’m not talking slippery slope stuff. I mean this is an actual lawsuit.
PH: They have four kids together, two of which have disabilities. It’s because they’re brother and sister. They didn’t know each other as kids. They got to know each other when they got older. They have children. They fell in love. Their love is real. I’ve, I’ve got a quote here from the, the wife that says, “There was nothing we could do about it, we were both attracted to each other and then nature took over, it was that simple. We followed our instincts and our heart.” So, I guess I’m sitting here and I’m looking at this and I’m saying, “Here are two consenting adults. They love each other. They’re raising kids. They have a family. Why not extend “Marriage Equality” to them? To me, if you erect a moral barrier and say “that’s not okay” then you become every bit the bigot –
BC: Right. That’s marrying someone –
Ryan Collins – Ben’s PR man: (interrupting) Excuse me, Peter?
BC: that’s your sibling though, marrying someone that’s your sibling is illegal for everyone and that’s, that’s across the board for everyone, but I think if you look back at, you know it used to be that you couldn’t marry someone of, of a different race. I mean, that’s something that we look at today and say “There’s no way that we should disallow people from marrying someone of the opposite race” and that was a moral judgment. And I think that’s the argument here, is that these people were making, that we were making the film about, is that, this is, this is a moral judgment that is actually denhying people rights that uh, that shouldn’t be denied. And, I think, as people get to know people uh, that are gay and lesbian, they get to realize that these are not, uh, villains that are going to harm our children, and I think if you know, if you watch the film you can see that, you can see that the evidence that was put on at trial by these expert witnesses. These are some of the top scientists from around the world, had extensive evidence that these don’t harm straight marriages and these things don’t harm the families of the children that they’re raising.
PH: Would, would, would your marriage or a straight couple’s marriage be harmed if we allowed the Steubings to be married?
RC: Peter, excuse me, Peter this is Ryan, I’m with PR with the film, can we please stick to the issues with this movie.
PH: Uh, well I – to me, this is the issue of the movie. The movie is about “Marriage Equality” and that’s what I’m trying to get at here. I don’t think you guys are being fair.
RC: I understand but, no, I understand but we’re gonna have to end this interview if you can’t stick to – we’re talking about this movie, “The Case Against 8″…
BC: We’ve taken the time to listen to both sides of, of, of this issue and we’ve, we’ve – in the trial we actually heard people testify on both sides, so we just hope people do the same and really listen to both sides and make whatever judgment they want.
PH: Yeah, did, did the other side of this debate – I know you talked to one guy – uh, did the other side, you know, uh, agree to allow your cameras in into their discussions and their meetings and all of that?
BC: No, actually we were not. We were filming the, you know we were filming from one perspective of these individuals who were challenging this law.
PH: Okay, so –
BC: Everyone –
PH: So, go ahead.
BC: Absolutely love to watch a film, I would pay to watch a film about what was going on on the other side so I think you know, we encourage everybody to tell as many stories as they can and then people can come to their own conclusions.
PH: Is it possible –
RC: Thank you so much, we’re actually out of time. Thank you.
PH: (laughing) Thank you, Ryan. Why am I not surprised at that? I don’t –
RC: Peter we thank you very much. We’re just –
PH: No, thank –
RC: We were, we allotted for 15 minutes so thank you so much.
PH: Very much, thank you, Ryan. I appreciate it, bye now.
RC: Alright. Bye.
PH: Uh, okay…look Ben can dodge the questions and Ryan can interrupt and protect him from it. Doesn’t change the reality that everything he said is precisely my point. Equal rights were not being denied to anyone. Equal rights are not denied to anyone. Everyone in the – let’s go back before any of the gay rights laws, any of the gay marriage laws were allowed. Everyone in this country had the equal protection of the laws. Everyone in this country had equal rights to marry. Yes, there were restrictions. Just like, just like Ben just quoted.
Everybody – the laws applied fairly on everybody – that you can only marry one person. Just like Ben just said. Everybody in the country – the law says that you cannot marry someone who is a close relation. The law’s applied fairly and equally. It’s on everybody.
Well guess what? The law applied equally and fairly on everybody that you could only marry someone of the opposite sex. But that was overturned and we were told it was civil rights. So my question is, why is it not equally “civil rights” to let the Steubings be married? Why is it not equal civil rights to let Warren Jeffs and his family be married? Explain it to me. Explain to me how they aren’t being denied “equal rights.”
It’s the exact same thing that Ben just said: “The law’s being applied fairly.” Yeah, it was applied fairly to everyone: “You can marry someone of the opposite sex.” But the argument was, “That’s not fair. It’s denying who I am.” Steubings can say the same thing: “Your law that applies fairly that doesn’t allow me to marry my sister, that may be applied fairly, but it’s denying me the right to marry who I want to marry and be who I am.” Warren Jeffs: “Law may be applied fairly I can only marry one person, but that’s forcing me to deny who I am.”
Can I go back to Ellen’s argument? She said, “We need to learn to love people for who they are and let them love who they want to love.” If we’re going to accept that for Ben, and Ryan, and these couples in this movie, how do Ben and Ryan and these couples in this movie not extend that same right to the Steubings, to the Jeffs? Why do they not need to learn to love people for who they are and let them love who they want to love? That’s the question. And that’s exactly what Ben does not want to answer and Ryan won’t let him answer. Huh. Why could that be?
Back for more of the show next.
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