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Tying the Knot documentary - Same sex marriage compared to mixed race marriage struggle

Published: Mon April 24, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Life > Relationships
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By Thomas Crampton | The New York Times

To anyone who thought that the fight for same-sex marriage rights started at San Francisco’s City Hall in 2004, the grainy scenes from 1971 that open the documentary film Tying the Knot will be a revelation.

Longhaired protesters in bell bottoms, armed with a guitar and bearing a wedding cake, force their way into the clerk’s office in New York’s City Hall demanding marriage rights for homosexuals.

After one answers the clerk’s phone to decline a request for a heterosexual wedding license, the protesters dance, do a singalong and finally peacefully file out.

“Seeing that people already started fighting for these same rights 30 years ago will surprise many people,” said Jim de Seve, the film’s director. “I think people will also be surprised by the power of marriage in a legal sense.”

News clippings from more recent events in the movement for same-sex marriage rights - including the legalization of gay marriage in Canada and the Netherlands - appear throughout the documentary, which will be shown at tonight’s meeting of the Triad Business and Professional Guild. Tying the film together is the trail of troubles faced by the surviving partners of two long-term homosexual relationships.

One is a lesbian police officer whose partner, also a policewoman in Tampa, Fla., was gunned down in the line of duty by a robber.

Although the two had been married in a ceremony 10 years earlier and were openly acknowledged as a couple at the funeral, Mickie, the surviving partner, faces difficulty getting Lois’ pension.

The other story involves an Oklahoma farmer, Sam, whose partner of 22 years, Earl, died, leaving him the ranch in his will. A distant relative contests the will and forces Sam into a court battle in which same-sex partners have no legal standing.

Started more than three years ago with a grant from the Jerome Foundation in St. Paul, the documentary was originally intended to highlight the personal struggle faced by de Seve and his partner of five years, Kian Tjong, over whether to marry.

“My point of reference for marriage has always been my parents,” said Tjong, who was a producer on the film. “In doing the film I learned about the risks that a couple faces without marriage.”

The filmmakers appear in the final cut only as off-camera voices asking occasional interview questions, and the film itself studies the meaning of marriage.

“We still wanted to answer the initial question ‘Should we marry?”’ de Seve said. “Yes, we should marry, and we want to marry because that would be society’s acceptance of the reality of our lives.”

Many fears about allowing gays to marry are based on the notion that the institution of marriage has remained unchanged through the ages, de Seve said.

The film shows marriage as evolving from an event centered around the exchange of property in the Middle Ages to one linked to the notion of romantic love in the 19th century.

Highlighting the importance that property once held over love in marriage, E.J. Graff, the author of What Is Marriage For? (Beacon Press, 1999), tells the camera, “The proverb goes: ‘He who marries for love has good nights and bad days.“‘

One tightly edited sequence draws parallels with the civil-rights movement, as a longtime gay-marriage advocate, Evan Wolfson, describes the legal battle fought by a mixed-race couple to have their marriage recognized by Virginia in the 1950s.

The historic arguments used against mixed-race marriage - society will fall apart, it is too costly, it is bad for children - are echoed in news clips of comments on the floor of Congress during a recent debate on same-sex marriage.

“The frame around the debate on marriage rights has not changed,” de Seve said. “This is the new civil-rights movement.”

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