In Same Sex America director Henry Corra has documented the story of the legal battle to secure permanent equal rights status for gays and lesbians to form legally binding marriage contracts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He fleshes out some of the social, ethical and emotional dynamics by profiling seven lesbian and gay couples and a couple of anti-gay marriage activists from the Christian right. The documentary film is informative and nuanced, and ends up being up both a record of the time and an active agent seeking to create historical change.
The overall look and feel of Same Sex America borrows heavily, likely consciously, from the documentary style of Rob Epstein. In Word Is Out, The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt and The Celluloid Closet, Epstein’s vision and style have come, by and large, to define "the gay (and lesbian) documentary" in the United States. Corra has interviewed seven sets of gay or lesbian marriage partners and their families, including parents and (usually adopted) children, in casual domestic settings, in what comes across as the bosom of safe and secure, middle-class homes. Such scenes are set counterpoint to busloads of right-wing Christian activists off to picket and protest. While both sides are filmed on Boston Common outside the State House, only the pro-gay marriage proponents are filmed inside the halls of government.
Corra creates a jarring juxtaposition. At one and the same time his film argues, through repeated example, that gay and lesbian families are every bit as typical and normal (if not more so) than any other American family. Filming activists in the halls of the state legislature communicates the literal message that gays and lesbian are political insiders. On a fast-forward track from The Times of Harvey Milk to Same Sex America this truly is revolutionary social change and in record time. And yet, when one right-wing Christian activist declares she is shocked to find actual homophobic hatred among some of her fellow protesters, the viewer may be left wondering who is paying attention to what’s actually going on. As proponents reiterate, this is not merely about "gay and lesbian rights," but a fundamental Constitutional battle over civil rights.
Same Sex America also attests to how far to the right once-left-leaning radical "gay liberation" has slid. At a time when straight America is moving further away from the "white picket fence with 2.6 suburban children" dream, it feels like more of a rearguard action, to be fighting for the right to be normal. This was clearly not the message Corra intended.
Likely to score a "boring" rating on the entertainment meter, Same Sex America would serve as a useful classroom teaching tool on American history. However, this presumes that "civics," and funny, antiquated stuff like the contents of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, might one day again become universal public school curriculum, and not, as increasingly seems to be the case, treated like dangerous and treasonous propaganda.