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Friday, October 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
Beyond the gay-marriage rhetoric, stories of real people

By Mary Brennan
Special to The Seattle Times

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The year 2004 has been exceptional, by any standard, for political documentaries, and the trend continues with yet another well-crafted film on a polarizing issue.

Jim de Sève's "Tying the Knot" is a quietly effective exploration of the divisive subject of gay marriage in America. And while it's unlikely to reach the large audience that Michael Moore's shrewdly marketed "Fahrenheit 9/11" drew to theaters, it's the kind of thought-provoking examination that would likely appeal to a fairly broad spectrum of Seattle filmgoers.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Tying the Knot," a documentary by Jim de Sève. 87 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences. Varsity.

De Sève's crisp documentary offers views from both sides of the issue, juxtaposing politicians on the stump with people on the street.

"Why," asks Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, impassioned and preacherly at the podium, "do you want to destroy the love they hold in their hearts? Why do you want to crush their hopes?"

"Marriage doesn't mean two men or two women," announces Republican Bob Barr, another Georgia congressman. "It just doesn't mean that."

A teenager on an urban stoop shrugs — the idea of gay marriage doesn't bother him, but "personally, I wouldn't do it."

While the film is clearly from a pro-gay-marriage point of view, it's notably and refreshingly free of cheap shots. De Sève includes footage of marriage ceremonies in Canada and the Netherlands — two countries where civil marriage has recently been legalized — as well as an illuminating historical perspective on the evolution of the institution of marriage.
But at the heart of the film are two wrenching personal stories. In rural Oklahoma, de Sève chronicles the story of Sam, farmer, father and Vietnam veteran. Sam faces eviction when Earl, his partner of more than 20 years, dies. Cousins of Earl's, whom he's rarely even seen, challenge and manage to overturn the will.

In Florida, a lesbian police officer named Mickie Mashburn tries to cope with the loss of her partner, Lois — gunned down in the line of duty during a dramatic bank robbery — while also dealing with a mind-boggling bureaucratic black hole that opens up in the wake of Lois' death.

Mickie must battle the pension board, very publicly, because her partner's family — despite being supportive and aware of the couple's marriage — inexplicably lays claim to the survivor benefits that would ordinarily go to the spouse.

This is a portrait of a decent, hard-working woman who clearly never wanted to be a symbol of anything, never wanted to occupy the center ring in a media circus. Just wanted to live her life in peace.

"It's hard," says Mickie, as she blinks back tears.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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