Freedom to Be
By AMY KATZ
While reflecting on the essential documentary film FREEDOM TO MARRY, by local artists Carmen Goodyear and Laurie York, my mind kept returning to the 1970s progressive children's project "Free to be you and me." It is astounding to me that a film from the 1970s advocating for equal rights among genders, and people in general, was not outdated. In fact, it seems as though we have gone into a state of retrograde. Goodyear and York, however, are participants in ferrying our nation into the 21st Century.
During the film, I kept wondering, along with individuals on screen, "What is it that makes people so vehemently against same-sex marriage?" In the film we see, and this is meant in the most inoffensive way possible, conservative-seeming, professional, intelligent, basically unremarkable human beings. Regular people faced with a hatred that is aberrantly out of proportion to the ordinariness of their constituency; average American citizens legally denied what the United States constitution says everyone has a right to.
Yet, these ordinary people have been charged with the extraordinary role of changing the world, and hopefully people's minds. Like the suffragists, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez, the people standing up for basic human rights are acting not so much out of choice but out of duty and necessity. The experience of watching Goodyear's and York's film was transforming.
Born in 1967, I missed the civil rights movement, but that evening I was an integral
part of it by being present; a participant by osmosis. The room was filled with individuals directly impacted by the struggle, and those who support the fight against discrimination. I never realized the power that a collective cause could generate; such a benevolent and generous cause at that. I felt privileged and humbled.
The love that emanated from that room was palpable, as was the pain and rage. But love dominated, for that really is what the struggle boils down to ‚ the freedom to love and to declare that love. And the love flowing in the auditorium seemed powerful enough to lift it off the ground. As the film closed the audience honored the film makers with a standing ovation.
Two couples in the film were present and were asked to come to the front of the room and gifted with sunflowers. Then local couples were asked to join them and gifted with sunflowers too.
The audience stood and cheered for these courageous individuals; people that would stand up for anyone suffering an injustice. Their smiles were luminous, issuing from the whole of them. We stood for them as though we were standing for Rosa Parks, honoring people who've taken heroic steps not to be identified as heroes, but to be granted the right to be ordinary.
FREEDOM TO MARRY challenges us to consider what it means to be human and humane -- if there is any difference. At one point the camera pans in on a little girl carrying a sign that reads, "Mr. President, why do you hate my family?"
Previously, her family of two moms and a sister were discussing how they were in a sense imprisoned in California because their marriage is not sanctioned in other states. Thus, if they went to visit the grandparents in Nevada, and something happened to one of them, the children who have been loved and nurtured by their parents could be taken away from them.
Another image which sits with me is one of Jeff Winkler and Linton Johnson, a couple recently married. Linton got choked up when saying how he wished his mother could have been at the wedding. A common wish for those whose loved ones are unable to attend a special event.
In yet another scene, Jeff began speaking about the emotional response he had to an email from an old fraternity brother. He had sent a wedding announcement to family and friends via email. Not having spoken with this fraternity brother in years, nor having been that close with him, Jeff never expected a response. Not only did he receive one, but it said that he couldn't believe this was an issue and he was happy for his friend. Jeff had to pause and compose himself, he was so overwrought with emotion. He couldn't believe the support he was receiving.
Along with the serious, there were the humorous and ironic moments, as any multidimensional work will demonstrate. Activists Davina Kotulski and Molly McKay were shown last year going to ask for a marriage license, as they do every year at San Francisco City Hall. The clerk kindly declined. They each grabbed a man behind them and asked, "If I marry him -- a total stranger -- is it legal?" The clerk sheepishly responds yes. The question that echoed throughout the film was, "What are we taking away from those who think we ought not be allowed to wed?" However, one point made visually evident was not that gay marriages will take away from heterosexual society, but that these couples are in fact denied 1,138 rights automatically granted to heterosexual couples.
Davina displayed the lack of rights by holding an empty container representing the rights of gay couples. Beside that was a container filled with 1,138 candy hearts, representing the rights of heterosexual couples. She dropped a few hearts in the empty container representing the few rights granted to domestic partners. Then another few should the bill AB 205 be passed. The injustice becomes glaringly apparent.
Juxtaposing images from the 60s civil rights movement worked well in aligning the two causes. As Linton, who is African-American, pointed out, civil rights doesn't just mean rights for people of color. Civil rights are for every human being regardless of race, religion, gender, etc.
Goodyear and York teach us that putting a human face to a story is crucial in reaching others. Statistics are numbing and words on their own can be sterile and detached. But watching a woman of 60 speak about loving her partner of 21 years and how devastating it could be should she die and not be allowed to leave things to her partner grabs your heart. We have no choice but to make a soulful connection with these people, one human being to another.
The filmmakers have put their heart and soul into the filming, as well as their money, for they were unable to procure grant funding because of the unexpected momentous declaration by Mayor Gavin Newsom and their jumping on an opportunity to right a wrong. The expenses for post-production, equipment, time, travel, editing, music royalty fees, publicity, film festival fees and more is an enormous drain on their pockets. Any support would be tremendously appreciated.
The Arts Council of Mendocino County endorses the project and as written in a letter from executive director Anna Kvinsland, "The story doesn't end with the making of this film. While FREEDOM TO MARRY is a hopeful documentary, there is much work to be done within the legal system to stop discrimination against same-sex couples. Please give generously and know that you have contributed toward expanding the civil rights of all Americans."
All donations are tax deductible.
For further information, call 707-961-5449, visit the council Website at www.artsmendocino.org, or contact
Kvinsland at firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks can be sent to FREEDOM TO MARRY Project, Arts Council of Mendocino County,
P.O. Box 1393, Fort Bragg, CA 95437.
Amy Katz is a writer for the Mendocino Beacon and Fort Bragg Advocate News