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Real lives: Sundance film echoes Utah same-sex marriage debate

February 17th, 2014 Posted in Arts and Life

By Katie Swain

PARK CITY, Utah — In the midst of angry debates and hurt feelings on both sides of the same-sex marriage situation in Utah, Park City held a celebration in honor of the approximately 1,300 gay and lesbian Utah couples who were wed in the last few weeks between Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling, and the state’s appeal for a stay to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The mega wedding reception doubled as a Sundance Film Festival premiere party for the HBO documentary “The Case Against 8,” a film that follows the legal case that brought down California’s same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, passed in 2008 and then reversed in 2010.

As gay Californians, directors Ryan White and Ben Cotner say the case meant a lot to them. As for screening the world premiere of the film in Utah just a few weeks after gay marriage was legalized and then banned again here, that was just a happy coincidence.

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 4.27.10 PM“Gay marriage in Utah?” said White. “No we had no idea that was coming until it came, so the timing couldn’t be better. And obviously we’re thrilled, or were thrilled for gay Utahans, and now we’ll see what happens. But the timing couldn’t be better to premiere the film here and to spark that dialogue in Utah which is a pretty divided state.

“Hopefully that dialogue can continue, and hopefully gay Utahans will be getting married again very soon.”

See story on USU alum Reed Cowan’s 2010 Sundance flim, 8: The Mormon Proposition

Complete with champagne and a wedding cake, the reception was indeed a celebration for Penny Kirby and Terri Henry, a Utah couple who married in Salt Lake on Dec. 23, and had a civil marriage ceremony in October, right next door at the Sundance Resort.

“We’d planned on going to California and doing the paperwork and everything,” Kirby said. “But then the opportunity here came up.

“I was in my sweats, and one of my friends texted me ‘Did you hear?!’ And Terri was on her way home from work, so we just tried to get everything figured out.”

Under the federal appeals court ruling, gay marriage was legalized in Utah on Dec. 20, a Friday. The couple tried to get married immediately, but were rejected twice that first day. First they were turned away at the Utah County Clerk’s office, and then arrived just after closing in Salt Lake. Monday morning, they arrived back at the Salt Lake county clerk’s office at 5:30 a.m. and were still the 115th couple in line.

“It was maddening at first to think we couldn’t get married,” Henry said. “It was almost like a gay tax, you know? We have to go out to California to get it done. But then when we had the opportunity to do it here, it was like, ‘Oh we have to do it now.’ Because this is home, right?”

Residents of Springville, Henry and Kirby were excited to be celebrating with like-minded people that day.

“It’s really cool to be in places where people get us and celebrate us,” Henry said, “because that doesn’t happen much here, especially where we live. People are nice—they just don’t how to deal with it, until they get to know us. And then they’re like, ‘Oh you’re just people, I get it. I guess this is ok.’”

Henry especially sees hope for the future.

“I’m glad it’s been kind of this peaceful transition,” Henry said. “Because I think people, given the opportunity to think about it and let the fear go away, will start to be more and more OK about it.

“I actually teach at a high school, and I happened into a classroom the other day where a student was giving a presentation, in my conservative little school, about how gay rights are just human rights and we shouldn’t be making people think badly about themselves just for being themselves,” she said. “I was really proud of that kid.”

The reception was thrown by Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. HRC worked with HBO and the directors on the premiere and launch of the film.

White and Cotner won the Directing Award in the U.S. Documentary category for their film, “The Case Against 8.” The film is scheduled for a June premiere on HBO.

“We’re really excited for that to bring it to a larger audience,” Cotner said.

Note: JCOM alumnus Reed Cowan, a TV news anchor in Las Vegas, married his longtime life partner Greg Abplanalp in Washington County, accompanied by their three kids as witnesses, on Dec. 23.


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