REVIEW: ‘Church and State’ (2018) Represents Both Sides of the Argument With Compassion and Respect

Rating: 3 out of 3.

Church and State represents the importance of marriage equality in the eyes of the people most affected by it” 

Church and State is a documentary focusing on a Utah court case that was led by an inexperienced gay man. Due to the pervasiveness of religion in the state, it was believed to not succeed. Despite all odds, however, the case succeeded in creating marriage equality, setting a legal precedent for the Supreme Court ruling in 2015. 

For many people outside of Utah, there is nothing know about the state beyond it being Mormon, let alone the subject matter of the documentary itself. Church and State, however, does an excellent job contextualizing the circumstances that surround the case itself for unaware audience members. From depicting the pervasiveness of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) to how the state government operates, viewers from outside Utah are able to understand how unexpected this win for marriage was. 

What is most unique about the documentary is the attention paid to various forms of gay activism. On one side there is Mark Lawrence, a man who is not experienced in politics, wanting to hold the state accountable for discrimination. On the other, there is Peggy Tomsic and the couples she represents in court, who are the ‘image’ for marriage equality in the state. Once the two parties dissolve their relations with one another, we as the audience are faced with the fundamental question that has seemed to plague our community for decades – how do we best advocate for LGBTQ+ rights? 

To the credit to the filmmakers, this film represents both sides with compassion and respect. Neither group is seen as entirely in the right or wrong, and the storyline notes the positive and negative aspects of both groups. It is extremely rare to see so much care into two different types of activists, which makes the film that much more complex to watch. It asks questions instead of answering them, and shows Mark Lawrence and Peggy Tomsic as individually captivating people, with stories that make you want to get out and act.

The only thing sincerely missed in the film is seeing how the court cases operated. Certainly you would not want to watch a full legal breakdown in a documentary, but it leaves questions on how the legal argument itself was formulated. With so much of the film discussing the case, it would have been useful to see Peggy Tomsic describe how she toppled Amendment 3. 

Often, LGBTQ+ histories talk about sudden revolutions, such as the Stonewall riot or the Supreme Court case toppling gay marriage bans nationwide. It would have been useful to see more of how the argument was formulated to understand how it set legal precedent in the United States court system. To understand that component would allow a more complete understanding of how the circumstances described in the first half of the film were not able to override the court ruling. 

Overall, Church and State is a fascinating glimpse on the court case toppling the gay marriage ban in Utah, the players in the case, and the multifaceted difficulties facing gay activists today; it is  clear that this film was crafted by people within the LGBTQ+ community. The heartfelt embraces of women being able to marry, men coming out of the room in tears after getting their marriage licenses, and couples finally being able to adopt their children are such beautiful images. It does not linger on tragedy or bigotry, while still acknowledging its omnipresence in the state. Instead, at its core, this documentary represents the importance of marriage equality in the eyes of the people most affected by it. It truly is wonderful to see. 

Directed By: Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox

Produced By: Holly Tuckett, Kendall Wilcox, Jennifer Lynn Dobner, James Huntsman 

Cast: Mark Lawrence, Peggy Tomsic, Derek Kitchen, Moudi Sbeity, Kody Partridge, Laurie Wood, Taylor Petrey, Jim Magleby, Jennifer Lynn Dobner

Release Date: 2018