Last weekend, popular gay blogger and outrage-manufacturer extraordinaire Andrew Sullivan continued his fervent crusade to undermine absolutely everything related to Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case challenging Proposition 8 (California's marriage discrimination amendment) that the American Foundation for Equal Rights litigated up to the U.S. Supreme Court and that ultimately resulted in the restoration of marriage equality in California.
Apparently unable to confine his criticisms to the way the case has been portrayed in film and print media, Sullivan attacked the case itself -- and even the plaintiff couples -- during a panel discussion about the new HBO documentary film The Case Against 8 in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
The event featured filmmakers Ryan White and Ben Cotner and plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and was moderated by Sullivan. From the start, according to Out magazine's Matthew Breen, the atmosphere was "thick with tension" and from the sound of things, downright hostile:
Sullivan began, "What kind of documentary is this? Is it advocacy, human interest, political?"
"First off let me say it's an honor to be on a panel with Andrew Sullivan," said Ryan White.
Sullivan interrupted, "Flattery will get you nowhere."
Alrighty then. Sullivan also repeatedly referred to the film as "propaganda" and told the plaintiffs over and over that they'd "lost" their case (because the justices ducked the fundamental constitutional issue on a technicality, thereby avoiding the sweeping ruling attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies were hoping for and bringing marriage equality back to California rather than the entire United States).
Finally, Perry and Stier decided they'd had enough.
Breen recounts Perry's response:
Kris Perry expressed her disappointment saying, "What's really sad here with respect to what's happening right now is us fighting with each other--"
Sullivan interrupted, "But we didn't start this, Chad Griffin did."
"Can I finish my sentence?" Perry said. "One of the things that saddened me is within our movement there is huge disagreement over whose story is more valid, whose story should get more attention, who tried harder, who's been a bigger contributor," she continued while Sullivan shook his head in disagreement. "I would just like to say to all of you is that Sandy and I set out to make a contribution to the degree we were able to make one. We are not attorneys, we are not writers, we are not legal scholars, or experts. We're just people who wanted to help people understand what it's like to not be able to get married or have your constitutional rights.
"What saddens me greatly is that within our movement there is this kind of criticism of people who are trying this hard." She indicated to Sullivan, "You've never been a plaintiff in a case, so you can't really speak to that in a firsthand way, and I would just really appreciate more respect and regard for individual contributions, whether you necessarily approve of them or not. This took a lot of personal effort."
Sandy Stier said, "And we did win in California. To us that's a big deal because we set out to restore marriage equality in California--and indeed marriage equality has been restored."
Sadly, Sullivan's hissy fit isn't even remotely surprising; from the very beginning, his outrage over the Prop 8 case and its various media portrayals has been remarkably self-glorifying, seemingly stemming from a belief that his own contributions to the marriage equality movement deserve greater mention in the Prop 8 narrative. But what I do find surprising -- and galling -- is Sullivan's apparent willingness to insult, degrade, downplay, and belittle the contributions made by others to that very same movement.
To put it bluntly: it doesn't matter what you think of The Case Against 8, or about Jo Becker's book Forcing the Spring, for that matter. Criticize them all you want. But smearing the plaintiffs? Uncalled for.
Being plaintiffs in a major case like this requires tremendous courage: you're putting yourself, your family, and the most intimate and precious relationship you'll ever have with another human being out in front of the public and opening it all up to tremendous scrutiny. As both the book and the movie point out, the process involves an incredible amount of stress, vulnerability, and even harassment and death threats. For years. How dare Andrew Sullivan -- or anyone else, for that matter -- trivialize that sacrifice or imply that the plaintiffs' efforts were for naught.
The Prop 8 team's public education campaign touched the hearts and minds of millions of people in California, across the country, and around the world. But even if only one mind was changed, if just one heart was opened as a result of what Kris, Sandy, Paul, and Jeff put themselves through, they didn't "lose" or "fail" -- they made a positive difference. Sullivan, who was agitating for marriage equality long before nearly anyone else would listen, should know that better than most.
Shame on him for being too blinded by his own ego to realize it.
UPDATE: Video of the event is now available. Watch it below:
Provincetown International Film Festival Breakfast: "The Case Against 8" Documentary: Panel Moderated by Andrew from LIPTV 2 on Vimeo.