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Editorial: ‘8’ the play at the Bing Crosby Theater

August 9, 2012

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By Sandra Hosking

What is marriage? A contract? A corporate merger? An institution? A spiritual joining? Whatever the definition, the word “marriage” has meaning globally. So do “husband,” “wife,” and “freedom.”

On Aug. 8, the American Foundation for Equal Rights and Broadway Impact presented a staged reading of the play “8” by Academy Award-winner Dustin Lance Black to a full house at the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane.

The play uses trial transcripts from Perry v Schwarzenegger and interviews to portray the debate over gay marriage and how that debate has affected the lives of people involved.

In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 8, which rewrote the state constitution to ban marriage for gay and lesbian people. In response, two couples, Sandy Stier and Kristin Perry and Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami filed suit against the proposition in federal court.

The evening seemed to carry more weight as plaintiffs Zarrillo and Katami were in attendance. Katami is a former schoolmate of one of the performers.

In the beginning, director Troy Nickerson gave a heartfelt statement about the recent loss of his partner of 21 years, David Gigler, a man he was never able to call husband officially. “We need you,” Nickerson told the audience, “because it is right.”

“8” is a serious play about serious issues, and the legal jargon is difficult to follow at times. But some things are universal: love, acceptance, hurt, love.

It brings to light how such laws are discriminatory and detrimental to individuals and how the state of California had no real defense in the lawsuit. The phrases “I don’t know,” “no evidence,” and “the state doesn’t need to prove …” popped up several times.  The government is not exempt from presenting evidence. It doesn’t get a bye on proof.

At one point, the state’s attorney, Charles Cooper (Thomas Heppler) suggested that marriage exists for the purpose of procreation. Same-sex couples obviously can’t conceive together. But the judge asked: What about heterosexual couples who are barren? Should they then be banned from marriage? Of course not. The state’s argument didn’t hold water.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys grilled so-called experts who claimed that gay marriage would corrupt children and society, exposing that they had conducted no studies, nor did they have any empirical evidence to prove those claims.

But the play was not without levity. When it opened, we met Stier and Perry (played by Marianne McLaughlin and Kate Vita) and their sons. When one of the children asked how long the trial would take, Stier responded, “I don’t know. I’ve never sued Arnold Schwarzenegger before.”

The 21-person cast featured familiar Spokane actors and some fine performances. Wes Deitrick and Rick Rivera, who played attorneys for the plaintiffs, Thodore B. Olson and David Boies, respectively, each had poignant moments. Heppler adeptly portrayed state attorney Cooper, a man trying to do his job and hold together arguments that dissipated under scrutiny. Kim Roberts played Maggie Gallagher, a commentator and opponent of gay marriage rights, as a woman on a crusade who ignored how her actions make other people feel.

Following the play, Ramon Alvarez, of the Washington State Human Rights Commission, mediated a discussion with Zarrillo and Katami, as well as another couple, Rabbi Tamar Malino and Elizabeth W. Goldstein, a professor at Gonzaga University.

It isn’t common for people on whom characters of a play or movie are based to be available to illuminate their story for an audience in person.

When Alvarez asked the panel why marriage equality was important to them, Rabbi Malino responded “to live a life of freedom.” The word “husband” has global recognition, Zarrillo said. “Freedom, association, protection, access,” Katami said.

There are currently 1,050 rights that gays are denied federally, Katami said. And federal law gives states the choice not to recognize same-sex couples’ rights as a married pair if they cross state lines, a situation Katami called a “crazy quilt.”

Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were not permitted to marry. When they were freed, they flocked to the altar. And until the Civil Rights Movement, it was illegal, even criminal, for interracial couples to wed. There are two basic reasons why those oppressive laws have been stripped from the books: Freedom and society got a clue.

When asked by an audience member how gays can combat the religious right who wields the words of the Old Testament like a weapon, Malino responded that there are many ways people interpret the text, but one thing is certain, “God said we were never meant to be alone.”

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In 2010, the federal court ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. Opponents appealed the decision, however, and the case now sits before the Supreme Court. At the end of September, the Supreme Court will review submitted cases and decide whether to put it on the docket. If selected, a final decision would be made by June 2013. If not, the lower court’s decision will stand, re-establishing gay couples’ rights to marry.

In Washington, civil unions between gay couples are permitted but the partnership is treated as a corporation. This fall, Washington citizens will vote on Referendum 74, which will ask voters to approve or reject existing laws that allow same-sex couples to marry. For information, visit, Washington United for Marriage at http://www.washingtonunited.org.

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Sandra Hosking, M.F.A., is a Spokane-area journalist and teacher. She is editor of InSight for Playwrights, a national publication, and Co-playwright-in-residence at Spokane Civic Theatre.

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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on danscape and commented:
    A great review of more than just the play. Ms Hoskins does a fine job of highlighting the real life consequences of the action entailed in “8” and gives flesh to the ideals of it.

    I very much enjoyed the fact that the actual litigants were there to make the drama even more genuine.

    Applause to all in loved and, as always, a big hug for Troy.

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