Film Review – Church & State
Church & State
Church & State has its heart in the right place but it takes on too many personalities, which causes it to lack a central focus. Mark Lawrence, an older gay man with no history of activism, starts Restore Our Humanity to oppose Article 3 that bans gay marriage in the state of Utah. Through this he is now taking on the Mormon church which, according to the film, is the most powerful institution in Utah.
Through Mark Lawrence we see what the origins of the fight for gay marriage are and how he decides to take action late in his life to make a difference in the world. We are also given details about the Mormon church, both its history and current status in Utah. We are given context in not only why the Mormon Church opposes gay marriage as part of their faith but also how they perceive themselves as a group and how that empowers them to fight this battle. We are introduced to the lawyers and the defendants that Mark has found as a means to show how the case progresses. Peggy Tomsic is the star lawyer fighting this case who has more than just a desire to do good. She and her partner have been together for years and they have a son that she cannot claim as her own because she is not a blood relation and also cannot adopt him.
In following the case our main “characters” move in and out and that causes some problems. Mark starts to have a conflict with the defendants and the lawyers after the case has moved to appeal but that is not set up well so, although we are given a general idea of what is happening, it feels important yet not deeply explored. We then move away from him and more to Peggy, which is accurate to what actually happened, but changes the way the movie was originally set up with Mark as our entrance into this story. This creates a disconnect as to what it is that we are watching.
The biggest downside is that we know how this film ends. Gay marriage is now legal in the United States and, while through the Utah case we are given some context as to how it all began, the film is lacking in-depth details about what arguments the lawyers used to win the case. Peggy’s commitment and dedication to her clients and for herself come through, but how she actually did it in the court room, or even the arguments she was preparing, are never shown. By this point Mark seems nearly absent from the film and we know little about the defendants beyond that they want to get married. The lack of a focal point for all that is happening doesn’t allow us to get invested in these individuals, and a lack of technical details about how the case is progressing creates a lifeless feeling for a lot of the final half.
Peggy gives us a better idea of what the state of Utah and its lawyers try to argue that shows the very weak and, in some cases, bizarre ideas that they present to deny gay marriage because they simply do not like it. Their bigotry is clear in the way they try to package a religious argument into a legal argument. But again it isn’t explored as much as I would have liked.
There are some good moments when we get back to Mark and his feelings about what happened, but it made me wish that I knew more about what he was going through. His thoughts are an afterthought when keeping them in the forefront might have made for a more interesting film by showing that even though there was a common goal of gay rights it was not the universal struggle that it is usually seems to be.
The documentary brings some not widely known ideas and context as to how gay marriage became legal in this country but is a bit messy in how the story is told. Directors Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox have a passion for the issue and want to impart the information they have, but it is not portrayed in the most smooth or most interesting way. It seems like there was more we could learn or just a slightly better way to provide us the details. While still having some interesting perspectives, it failed to give the story the clear voice that could have made it more memorable overall.