Not all heroes wear capes, and the documentary film The Freedom to Marry, currently available on streaming services, artfully proves it. Its central protagonist is Evan Wolfson, a bespectacled 60-year-old New York native whose organization Freedom to Marry spearheaded the Supreme Court Case (Obergefell v. Hodges) that legalized gay marriage nationwide on June 26, 2015.
Wolfson and Bonauto relish their victory
"Every time I watch it, even though obviously I know the answer, I feel all the suspense, the drama,' Wolfson enthused in a conversation with me last month. "The filmmaker did a great job of capturing that." He's right: director Eddie Rosenstein skillfully evokes the tension and anxiety leading up to the decision as well as taking time to illuminate the emotional stakes. Scenes of a mother and grandmother advocating for her gay family members in Texas and a woman overcome with joyful tears while watching President Obama’s address after the ruling pull the heart strings. The film is enhanced by a wide range of participants, including a hard-working heroine, attorney Mary Bonauto; plaintiffs and moms April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, and even opponent Brian S. Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, as well as high production values like crisp cinematography and a playful music score. The movie could have been a puff piece victory lap, but the creators, including producer Jenni Olson, a queer film historian and filmmaker, go the extra mile and produce a documentary with texture and quality.
Wolfson explained that The Freedom to Marry has affected more than just queer audiences. "The documentary has been embraced by other movements, not just our own," he told me, noting that "the lessons and elements that won" are seen as informative and inspiring. Wolfson himself has been sharing that helpful information since his organization achieved its goal. "That's what I'm doing now, is getting the chance to assist and educate all different movements, not just LGBT ones," Wolfson stated, adding examples that include women's and immigration rights. "I'm advising and assisting anyone who wants to hear my advice and have my assistance. Learning about things I didn't know much about." His travels last month took him from Israel to the Czech Republic to Taiwan and Washington, DC.
Speaking of Washington, Wolfson agrees that the new administration presents a problem: "The election was a catastrophe, and our country is on the wrong track," he told me unequivocally. But he doesn't see it as insurmountable. "I don't think the freedom we've gained is likely to go away," he argued. "Let's not let a bad thing be worse than it is by imagining all the gains we could lose." Like any hero, Wolfson sees a path to victory. "We, as not just LGBT people but Americans, have to fight back," he urged. "I think our top priority as LGBT people needs to be to get the country back on track. Specifically as LGBT people but also as Americans, we've really been there in solidarity with other threatened communities. We've been there standing up for our communities and values, not just our own."
Wolfson believes that The Freedom to Marry can itself be a tool in that struggle. "I really hope that people will get a chance to see the film and learn that you can make a difference,” he explained. "And get the inspiration to go out there and make [that] difference. Because we need everybody now."