The making of our award winning documentary film, Pursuit of Equality , was a life-changing and eye-opening experience for Mike Shaw (co-director) and myself. This is not because the process passionately consumed over 4 years of our lives, or that we didn't have a script, a shooting schedule, a cast of characters, or even a budget. It was because we had not planned on making this film, we really didn't understand the issue at stake, and because, like most people, we had no idea what was about to transpire during San Francisco's “Winter of Love”. We were just two tenacious filmmakers at the right place at the right time.
It all began innocently enough over brunch on February 8 th , 2004, with a few members of my family and the newly elected Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom. I asked, almost jokingly, if there was anything exciting going on, and he said. “Yes, I'm about to ruin my political career.” I asked him what he meant, but he wouldn't say. He just said that what he was about to do “was the right thing to do.”
On the evening of February 11th, 2004, Gavin called me at home and asked that Mike Shaw (my co-director) and I film the first same-sex wedding in the United States between Del Martin and Phyliss Lyon.
On February 12 th , 2004, citing authority from the California Constitution's equal protection clause, the City of San Francisco, led by Mayor Gavin Newsom, made history by issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Mike and I arrived at City Hall at 7:30am and we didn't know what to expect. The press was completely unaware, and there were only a few key members of the mayors' staff on hand, and a few high-powered members of the LGBT community. We had no idea that as Del and Phyliss exchanged their vows, that this moment would ignite what would become the most controversial United States civil rights topic in recent history.
The City continued to marry gay and lesbian couples, and as filmmakers we kept the cameras rolling. Over the next month, with a meager crew and no budget, we religiously charged our batteries, cleaned our lenses, and made the sacrifice to film these historic events. We continued on, in the streets, in the courtrooms, and found ourselves the only film crew in the actual Mayors Chambers during the most crucial of times. On the steps of City Hall, we witnessed, first hand, clashes between same-sex couples feeling validated on the happiest day of their lives, and church groups declaring that who they are how they love is a life of sin and shame.
In life-changing moments, we documented the elation and despair of couples and families who were fighting for their right to protect each other. The power of these moments provided the resolve we needed to sacrifice all of our clients, as well as our film and television projects, in order to do what we felt was right. Collectively, we knew that we had the power to make a difference and to expand people's hearts and minds. We had to make this film.
When the California Supreme Court issued an immediate halt on March 11 th , 2004, over 3,900 couples had already been married, the inevitable national debate began to rage, and we were there to record the entire affair in what was to become a groundbreaking and award-winning documentary.
Eventually, the marriages were annulled, confiscating the joy and validation of thousands of couples. The news cameras clicked off and their sound bites ceased. It was then that our real journey began, and our cameras continued to roll.
We quickly understood that what was occurring was one of those “watershed” moments in life. Our intention wasn't to make an ordinary documentary film, our goal was to create a film that would bring people together and provide a deeper understanding of civil liberties and current day discrimination. A film that would provide what this issue deserves, a fair and impartial discussion.
We continued to document this issue for the next 19 months. Just when we'd finish one version, a new legal development or court decision would outdate it. Nevertheless, we locked in a final version in late 2007, setting for a 2008 release date.
On May 15 th , 2008, the California State Supreme Court ruled in a historic 4-3 decision, that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry in California. California chief justice Ronald George, writing for the majority, declared that "an individual's sexual orientation--like a person's race or gender--does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights." But the fight is still not over.
There is a planned ballot initiative for California's 2008 November election, which would amend the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. The opposition has been quoted as saying: “This is your generation's war for marriage, children and the very foundation of society.” This measure would override the justices and render their ruling void if passed by the majority of voters.
In the end, this issue comes down to three groups: Those who are “for” same-sex marriage; those who are “against” same-sex marriage; and those who are on “the fence”. The intent of Pursuit of Equality is to present and expose the many sides of the same-sex marriage debate, while at the same time putting a human face on discrimination.
Educating people on this issue is vital, and now, more than ever, is the time to share Pursuit of Equality with all of our friends, family, and colleagues. The fight continues.
Geoff Callan & Mike Shaw