Revisiting Proposition 8

On November 28th, Boston University Law School will open its doors for an one-night performance of Dustin Lance Black’s, “8 the Play.”  It’s a stage reenactment of the federal court case Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, that this year overturned California’s Proposition 8.

Remember Proposition 8 in 2008? Who could forget?

Prop 8 was an amendment to the California Constitution eliminating marriage equality for same-gender couples. It was a reaction the ruling by the California Supreme Court in May 2008 that a “separate and unequal” system of domestic partnership for same-gender couples is not only blatantly discriminatory but it is also unconstitutional.

Rightly so, the LGBTQ community dubbed the ballot initiative “Proposition Hate.” The campaign funding for and against Prop 8 was the highest of any state ballot that year, revealing not only a country divided on the issue of marriage equality, but sadly also revealing a LGBTQ community divided along race and class lines on the issue. And, for the state of California to have framed our civil rights as a ballot question for a popular vote was both wrong-hearted and wrong-headed.

In February of this year the federal court case Perry v. Schwarzenegger finally brought a long awaited justice to California’s LGBTQ community.

Had the court approved video recording of the trial, hundreds of us would have witness democracy at work; Perry v. Schwarzenegger would have been shown, for the first time ever, live on YouTube and at public courthouses throughout the country—Brooklyn, NY, Seattle, WA, Portland, Or, and Pasadena and San Francisco in California.

But Brian Balduzzi, a third year law student at BU and director of the play, has taken on the ambitious and usual task to make the trial come to life. With a hybrid of the trial transcript, media excerpts, and the plaintiffs’ stories Balduzzi is using verbatim theater, of all places at a law school, to not only take us into the courtroom on that historic day but to also use it as a teaching tool for social change and for the public to hear both sides of the debate.

“Law schools don’t typically put on theatrical productions, but we believe in reaching people in a wide variety of ways. Theatre is profoundly important to me for social activism. I believe we can change the world through starting discussions through theatrical productions. Legal decisions are no different and require people to be educated in an engaging way; theatre provides this avenue,” Balduzzi stated.

I ask Balduzzi why revisit this hot button issue at this time?

Balduzzi urgently states that Proposition 8’s Ninth Circuit decision is up for appeal this year to the Supreme Court. And additionally, a number of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) cases are up for Supreme Court’s review.

While Prop 8 will continue to be discussed and hopefully resolved favorably by the Supreme Court, it is unresolved for many in the LGBTQ community; the raw feelings resulting from the racial fallout of Prop 8 still lingers with some to this day.  I remember on Election Day 2008 we saw democracy work with the election of Barack Obama as our country’s first African American president.  But we also saw how democracy didn’t work for its LGBTQ citizens with the passing of Proposition 8.  While California’s LGBTQ community placed blame on African Americans for the passing of Proposition 8, African Americans were one of many religious conservative interest groups backing the amendment. And although African Americans are just 6.2 percent of the state’s overall population we couldn’t wash our hands clean by saying other interest groups were just a culpable.

Given how the outcome of Prop 8 was interpreted as the results of homophobic African American voters I asked Brian if the play addresses this issue.

“Honestly, this interpretation is news to me, and I don’t believe it’s addressed in the play. To be honest, I consider the play a little white-centric and I have tried to fight against my initial reading by casting a diverse cast of individuals. I would encourage audience members to discuss these concerns, interpretations, and thoughts in our talkback session.”

“8″  continues to be performed with a diverse cast on college campuses and in community centers across the country bringing awareness about marriage equality.

Theater used as a tool for social change reach people of all strata. It raises consciousness, make people think, and it tries to analyze existing problems, to name a few.

What we may have missed in the actual courtroom scene of  Perry v. Schwarzenegger is recaptured in our interpretive reenactment.

8 the Play will be performed in the BU Law Auditorium on Wednesday, November 28 at 6:30 p.m. There will be a talkback after the hour-and-a-half performance with attorneys and BU Law professors. Admittance is free, but donations to the American Foundation for Equal Rights will be collected at the door.

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