Directed and produced by Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox, Church & State documents the story of the remarkable, little-known Utah lawsuit that catalysed the institutionalisation of same-sex marriage in law by the US Supreme Court in 2015. Set in the heart of Mormon country, one intrepid gay activist builds a contentious legal case against the state of Utah, challenging its religiously-influenced opposition to LGBTQ equality.
Mark Lawrence, a gay man born and raised in Utah, joins forces with a small town law firm, gaining the allegiance of Peggy Tomsic, an attorney who wants to be able to marry her partner and legally adopt their son. Together they gather plaintiffs and form a powerful lawsuit against the state, despite not representing any major LGBTQ rights protest group or organisation. However, they are relentlessly opposed by Utah locals and government officials alike, most of whom are of the Mormon congregation and are desperate to protect the sanctity of man-woman marriage.
Despite a number of setbacks and disputes within the campaign itself, Lawrence and his fellows finally achieve recognition from the 10th Circuit Court, which strongly impacted the case for marriage equality as an institutional right across the country. As encouraging as the success is, this story still unfortunately reminds us that secularism remains something of a liberal fantasy in the modern day United States government, particularly at state level. The deep hatred funnelled by the Latterday Saints Church, disguised as a moral obligation to protect children and traditional families, shows little sign of relenting despite court ruling.
As a result, the tone and message of Church & State are somewhat conflicting. Safe editing choices and lack of visual dynamism don’t quite bolster the narrative with the tension and revolutionary atmosphere it deserves. Even Lawrence, the lawsuit’s figurehead, is left rather jaded by the experience. As such, the narrative is missing the punchy, optimistic ending that should incite its audience to call to arms and rally around the LGBTQ community. That being said, this remains an important story to be chronicled in the timeline of LGBTQ activism, regardless of the campaign’s flaws.
It becomes clear that this court ruling was just one brick laid on a long road ahead, and that for LGBTQ folks to truly have not just legal equality, but genuine, unconditional acceptance from our peers, there is much more work to be done.
by Megan Wilson
Megan (she/her) is a northerner and Film Studies graduate now pursuing an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture at the University of Manchester. When not wrangling her cats or watching football, she dreams of being a professor and writing endless books on lesbian cinema just because she can. Her favourite films include Carol, Moonlight, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and she’ll always have a soft spot for Matilda. Find her on Twitter.
Categories: Anything and Everything