A lively, cogent docu, “Tying the Knot” fortuitously examines same-sex marriage at precisely the moment the issue is making headlines all over. Pic recaps recent political developments while dramatizing, through two case histories, the plight of those couples who do not enjoy the 1,049 different federal rights conferred on officially married partners. Helmer Jim de Seve also gives a puckish, scholarly summation of the institution of marriage itself and questions whether legalizing homosexual unions would indeed pose a serious threat to the sacred ritual. Timely advocacy docu will likely attract theatrical interest, with cable and/or PBS a surefire follow-up.
Two stories embody the inequities faced by non-legally wed longtime partners. In Florida, two policewomen’s marriage was accepted by family and colleagues. Home movies from 1991 record the religious ceremony that consecrated their bond, the brides dressed in matching tuxes as kinfolk and friends look on and smile benignly.
When one was killed 10 years later in a televised shootout, the other was at first afforded the full honors of a surviving spouse. But as soon as money entered the picture, everything changed. Allegations of infidelity, on the one hand, and the hair-splitting niceties of pension by-laws, on the other, combined to divert the funds back to relatives of the dead woman.
The case of a man in Oklahoma registers as even more egregious. Though his partner of 22 years left a will clearly bequeathing him the ranch that they had shared, a technicality (a missing third signature) not only allowed an estranged relative to contest the will and win, but also encouraged her to sue the survivor for back rent.
Around these two centerpiece stories, de Seve clusters short interviews with people getting hitched in present-day rites of varying legality in assorted states and countries, capturing the jubilation of longtime lovers who have waited forever to tie the knot. In countries like Canada and the Netherlands where same-sex marriage has just become the law of the land, the celebrations are widespread, including the rooting participation of many straights of good will who come to toss rice and offer congratulations.
Theorists on both sides of the fence weigh in with rhetoric, logic or runaway emotion. Via television footage, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, expounds on the evils of homosexual partnerships from behind a desk, while Bob Barr holds forth from the floor of Congress, urging passage of the Defense of Marriage Act that outlawed same-sex marriage.
On the other side of the fence, in one-on-one interviews, legal expert Kees Waaldijk argues that women’s rights and the simplification of divorce law have impacted marriage far more radically than current gay-friendly trends. Historian EJ Graff’s account of the institution (whimsically illustrated with time-specific artifacts) finds huge changes in the nature of wedlock and in its perceived purpose from era to era. A clip from a 1996 film starring Timothy Hutton and Lela Rochon reenacts the 1967 Supreme Court case that ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. The arguments against racially mixed marriages sound eerily identical to those brought against same-sex couplings today.
De Seve captures the sense of a movement gathering momentum through time as state after state wrestles with the issue and the president seeks a last-ditch Constitutional Amendment to stem the tide.
Tech credits are fine.