Illegal Love is a French documentary about the fight over California’s Proposition 8 (and, to an extent, the fight over gay marriage in the United States general, since you’ll notice that the money and muckety-mucks of the anti-LGBT forces tend to pour into battleground states from all over the country). Filmmaker Julie Gali had originally come to the U.S. to cover Barack Obama’s election, but then was hit by the same gut-punch that all LGBT Californians and their allies were the next morning: One of the nation’s flagship liberal states had just amended its constitution to ban gay marriage.
It’s odd and sort of embarrassing watching an outsider try to make sense of the shameful efforts of one group of our citizens to revoke rights from others. But in a way, seeing the basics get spelled out so that a French viewer can understand what was going on starkly highlights the ridiculousness – and inherent meanness – of the Prop 8 campaign. (Most of the interviews are conducted in English, by the way. There are a few explanatory segments in French, but those are subtitled.)
There is a canny analysis of the Mormon Church’s motivations for getting into the “marriage protection” game, and Gali is clearly fascinated by the sweep of American Fundamentalism and megachurches, though she is careful to show a range of religious leaders who are completely supportive of the LGBT community. Gali does a good job of illustrating that it’s a narrow band of religious denominations that want to encode their even narrow interpretations of the Bible into our secular laws.
At least I hope she does a good enough job. The French do seem a little stunned that such old-fashioned bigotry is surging the United States. As we all should be.
Gali includes on-the-street interviews as well as some with prominent leaders on both side of the struggle. Gay Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger makes some trenchant points; it would have been nice if the GOP had actually let him participate in a debate.
There is a clear-eyed examination of how local laws and political campaigns (and political donations) work in the United States, but in the end, Gali’s film suggests, as California state senator Mark Leno states outright, that it really all comes down to the way we think about and use the word “love.”
The anti-LGBT spokespeople are always careful to preface their remarks by saying how much they love homosexuals. Absolutely love them! It’s just that gay marriage is a poison or against the Bible or Satan actively and directly trying to destroy our society. It’s like they see “love” as a get-out-of-jail-free card, and once you play it you can say any bigoted thing you want, because, hey, it’s all coming from such a good place. And speaking of love, it’s something that many of the anti–gay marriage folks literally think that same-sex couples just can’t do, or at least not as well as straight people do.
Gali refutes that point over and over during Illegal Love, from the happy tearjerker of a gay wedding that opens the film to a long-together elderly lesbian couple to the quiet, powerful moments she catches gay and lesbian parents sharing with their children.
The film ends on a hopeful note, with a nod to the old guard and a look at the new, fired-up generation of LGBT activists who have been spurred into action by – whoopsie! – Prop 8.
Illegal Love premieres on Logo Saturday, October 29 at 8/7 p.m. Central.