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One year later: a reflection on Prop 8 and DOMA from ‘The Campaign’ director Christie Herring

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Editors’ note: We’re so happy to bring you this guest post from Christie Herring, the documentary filmmaker who directed “The Campaign,” a powerful film that chronicles the story behind the passage of Proposition 8 in California and its downfall, years later, at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Last June, Christie was busy finishing up her film as it premiered right around the Court’s decision; now, one year later, she looks back on those historic days.

SF City Hall marriage
(Photo courtesy of Christie Herring)

By Christie Herring

Nearly a year ago, Prop 8 and DOMA bit the dust. That moment was a big one for the country, the movement for LGBT rights, and for LGBT families and allies.  And it was a special moment for me in another way. I’d spent the past five years working on a documentary for public television following the No on Prop 8 effort – THE CAMPAIGN.

On Sunday, June 23, 2013 we premiered the film at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco, and the following day the film began its broadcast life with a special airdate on KCET Los Angeles. At that moment, we knew that the U.S. Supreme Court would announce – within days – the fate of Proposition 8 and DOMA.  Prop 8 was what I thought about, worked on, considered and reconsidered for years leading up to this. To have all of these coalesce was surprising but also perfect. As I reflect on this now, THE CAMPAIGN is set for another big moment, as it’s poised to air on the majority of public television markets across the country on Wednesday, June 11, and on many others throughout June.

How I wish I could have bottled the energy in the theater on the day we premiered THE CAMPAIGN. Watching the story of same-sex marriage in the U.S. and of Prop 8 unfold, in a room with hundreds of people who worked hand-in-hand to stop it, was a moving experience that I will never forget. After the film, we brought up the lights and I asked everyone who had worked on No on 8 to stand. Almost everyone in that 1,400-person theater was standing.  At that time, THE CAMPAIGN had an inspirational but unmistakably sad ending. But just as we premiered the film, that was all about to change.

On the day Proposition 8 was passed by California voters, there were two states in the U.S. that allowed same-sex marriage: Massachusetts and Connecticut.  By our film premiere on June 23, 2013, we were up to nine states and the District of Columbia. Three days later, that number went up to 10, as Proposition 8 was put to rest by the U.S. Supreme Court, along with a major provision of DOMA. The community and the country erupted in celebration. I jumped back into the fray to celebrate, and to film my happy ending at long last!  We spent a few more days in the edit room so that we could update the ending of THE CAMPAIGN and share the full story.

From Seattle to Atlanta, North Carolina to Houston, San Diego to DC, Denver to Mississippi and beyond, the film crisscrossed the country.  I was able to attend many of these screenings, and a few things really stood out. We wanted to get THE CAMPAIGN into a wide variety of settings with very different legal and cultural contexts for same-sex marriage and for LGBT people living safely and proudly in their communities. We wanted to know the ways Prop 8 touched their lives and what the work for LGBT rights looked like around the country.  This gave me the opportunity to see the historic changes of this incredible year unfold through the eyes of people in every corner.  I learned a lot:

19 States
(Photo courtesy of Christie Herring)

Look where we are. This year has been full of progress, and here we are again today with good news! Poised to be the 20th state (20th!) to allow same-sex marriage, Wisconsin has been a long time in the works. When I heard that the state was opening up for marriage, my thoughts immediately went to Hannah Johnson LeBlanc, her family, and the groups of No on 8-ers who were in the Castro Theater last year to see THE CAMPAIGN.

At that time, we were also grieving the loss of Hannah.  She grew up in Wisconsin, and throughout her time as Northern California Field Director for the No on 8 Campaign, she spoke emotionally and often of her experience working to stop the marriage ban there in 2005.  Hannah passed away just before her 30 birthday and weeks before the June 2013 end of DOMA and Prop 8. We have worked with the Task Force this year to launch the Hannah Fund, a fund that supports young people gaining leadership skills and working in community activism of all stripes, run by the Task Force Academy for Leadership and Action. We recently had a screening at George Mason University honoring Hannah and celebrating several of these graduate activists.  The work of people like Hannah and the young activists who will continue to work in her honor continue to be an inspiration AND a call to action!

Marriage hits home. At every single screening I attended, at least one person, and usually more, stood up to say they got legally married during the pre-Prop-8 marriage window in 2008. Every screening.  They talked about what it was like to navigate their unique situations legally, professionally, and emotionally. This was a reminder of the huge significance of Prop 8 and of the circles of community that marriage affects. Whether they traveled to California to marry or lived here at the time, their marriages not only affected their own legal standing and sense of their relationships, they also had a ripple effect upon the laws back home as well as the emotional and practical landscapes of their families and social circles.

Urgency and apathy.  One theme in THE CAMPAIGN is what campaign workers observe as apathy in the community – the reticence of folks to get involved in fighting Prop 8. This was a complicated reality in 2008 with roots in many areas, and I wondered how viewers would respond to this notion outside of California. I learned quickly that it resonated deeply wherever we went.  Whether it was educating the community on what rights in addition to marriage needed to be won OR connecting folks to the many ways to engage in change-making outside of a courtroom – organizers, activists, and community members spoke emotionally about this challenge of community organizing and activist work. At the same time, they spoke of how powerful it is to work together to make change.

More than marriage.  Reminders of the success of this type of community work could reap were not far away. We have traveled twice to Houston, once for Q-Fest and once for the Task Force’s Creating Change Conference. On both occasions, we heard from local activists who did not want to wait for marriage to become legal. They were ready for more rights, and rights beyond marriage, now.  After lobbying, educational campaigns, rallies, and letters, as of May 29th, the city of Houston has a pro-LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance!

Marriage and more hits home, again. One fact that I announce at each screening is that my home state of Mississippi passed a marriage ban with the highest percentage of any state – 86%. I say this as a reminder that the current legal landscape, while incredible positive and promising, is not a landscape that gives legal protections to all LGBT people. And while marriage rights are important, the 86% of Mississippi voters who passed the marriage ban represented much more than a ban on same-sex marriage.  When I traveled to there for a screening, we got to address this head on. This screening took place just a few miles from where I grew up, and the audience was full of familiar faces. Mississippi had just passed a “Religious Freedom” law, known as SB2681.  People were upset, and we gathered activists for a discussion. Often out of the national conversation on marriage due to a sense that it is out of reach, it was clear that incredible work was being done in Mississippi to look at how LGBT rights intersect with racial discrimination, the need for immigration reform, and safety and healthcare for transgender youth and adults. The results of this work are becoming visible. Last week, Mississippi’s capital city of Jackson became the 5th city in the state to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT folks.

It is often said that we have a long way to go. Although we know how much we have gained in these last few years, this is still true. Marriage is still incredibly important. Marriage rights are about more than marriage.  And to work for LGBT rights today is to work for more than marriage and no less than the full legal rights for every member of our community, wherever they live and whoever they are.

THE CAMPAIGN can be viewed on public television throughout the month of June. Many markets are airing the film on June 11th, but please check your local listings for airtimes.  You can follow THE CAMPAIGN on Facebook, on Twitter, or via our website.

The Campaign poster

About the author: Christie Herring is an award-winning documentary director and editor with a strong interest in social justice.  Her film The Campaign follows the historic No on Proposition 8 election from the inside and reveals the history behind the fight for marriage equality. Her first film Waking in Mississippi focused on the wildly controversial election of the first black mayor in Herring’s childhood hometown—a contest that ended in the threat of a riot. Her short films Chickens in the CityHowdy Partner, and Bodies and Souls have won multiple awards, screened at dozens of film festivals around the world, and have aired on PBS.  Christie’s producing and editing credits include work with broadcasters such as PBS, National Geographic, and A&E, as well as clients including SFMOMA, LEVIS, Facebook, UC Berkeley, Breakthrough Collaborative, the Skoll Foundation and the Mississippi Center for Justice. She has taught workshops and presented talks at Stanford University, the Duke Center for Documentary Studies, and San Diego State University, among others.  She was selected as a 2013 San Francisco Film Society Film House Resident and as a participant in the 2011 CPB Producer’s Academy. Christie received her MA in Documentary Filmmaking from Stanford University.

(Photo by Chris Riley)
(Photo by Chris Riley)


  • 1. JayJonson  |  June 10, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    It is not true that Jackson and four other Mississippi cities have passed ordinances that protect LGBT folks. What they have passed are nonbinding resolutions saying that lgbt folk are valued. These are purely symbolic and mainly pr efforts. They provide no protections against discrimination.

  • 2. Eric Koszyk  |  June 11, 2014 at 6:07 am

    So Someone just posted some advertising spam on a thread that is over a year and a half old, from January 24, 2013. If you click on the poster's name it takes you to an advertisement.

    Please close all old threads after 6 months as you promised.


  • 3. F_Young  |  June 11, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Eric KoszyK: "Please close all old threads after 6 months as you promised."

    Two weeks would be better.

  • 4. jack p  |  June 11, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Panel to discuss gay rights ordinance, gogogo<img src=""/&gt;

  • 5. jack p  |  June 11, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Panel to discuss gay rights ordinance, gogogo<img src=///""/&gt;

  • 6. eizverson22  |  June 13, 2014 at 6:54 am

    True love is visible not to the eyes but to the heart.Everyone love to be protected.<img src=>

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