In Church & State, co-directors Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox explore the behind-the-scenes story of the odyssey that resulted in the striking down of Utah’s same-sex marriage ban.
Having won Best Feature Documentary awards at both the American Documentary Film Festival and International Film Festival of World Cinema in Nice, France, Church & State premiered Friday for a weeklong run at downtown Salt Lake City’s Broadway Centre Cinema.
The story centers on local LGBT activist Mark Lawrence, a co-founder of the advocacy group Restore Our Humanity. Established in July 2012, the group consisted of a few friends meeting in a coffee shop to brainstorm a way to overturn Amendment 3, the Beehive State’s same-sex marriage ban. Passed in 2004 with 66 percent of votes in the affirmative, the measure was supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon opposition to marriage equality plays a major part in the story, hence the title Church & State. Eventually, Lawrence retained Salt Lake City-based law firm Magleby & Greenwood and Peggy Tomsic was brought on as the lead attorney.
Three couples—Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, Karen Archer and Kate Call, and Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity—were then recruited to serve as plaintiffs. Finally, on March 25, 2013, a lawsuit entitled Kitchen v. Herbert was filed in the United States 10th Circuit Court. All involved expected a long, drawn-out process, but things moved very quickly and Federal District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled the ban unconstitutional on December 20, 2013 — temporarily legalizing same-sex marriage in the entire 10th Circuit, including Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the ruling pending appeal on January 6, 2014, and the case met its ultimate conclusion when the Court denied the State of Utah’s petitions for certiorari exactly nine months later.
Lawrence is portrayed as a sympathetic advocate looking to bring about change, although one with an extremely volatile personality that led to a number of conflicts with other members of the team. Running at one hour and twenty-four minutes, the documentary feels too short and kind of rushed in a way. All in all, Church & State is a decent retelling of the facts and includes the bonus of an insider’s perspective.