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Screening Desire: Same-Sex-Marriage Documentaries, Citizenship, and the Law

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2014

BJ Wray
Department of Justice, British Columbia Regional Office, Vancouver,


This article explores how the legal arguments in favour of same-sex marriage recognition in the United States and Canada have been taken up in two recent documentaries on the subject: Tying the Knot: The Union That's Dividing America (USA, 2004) and The End of Second Class (Canada, 2006). My interest in these films lies in how they represent the legal challenges to their audiences. Like the litigation itself, each of these documentaries is built upon representational strategies that are intended to have the maximum impact on their audiences. Tying the Knot and The End of Second Class replicate the legal arguments and litigation strategies used by advocates of same-sex marriage. In particular, I analyse how each film represents the case for same-sex marriage through an appeal to three markers of equality rights discourses: rights evolve over time; rights are comparative; rights are indicators of national belonging. I contend that in their reliance on these markers, Tying the Knot and The End of Second Class unwittingly re-inscribe dominant notions of what it means to have full and equal national belonging and, thus, delimit what it means to be a “good” sexual citizen.


Cet article explore comment les arguments juridiques en faveur de la reconnaissance des mariages entre personnes de même sexe, aux Etats-Unis et au Canada, sont représentés dans deux documentaires récents: Tying the Knot: The Union That's Dividing America (États-Unis, 2004) et The End of Second Class (Canada, 2006). Je m'intéresse notamment aux manières dont ces films présentent les contestations judiciaires à leurs auditoires. Comme les litiges, ces documentaires sont construits sur des stratégies représentationnelles qui ont pour but d'avoir un impact maximal sur leurs auditoires. Ainsi, Tying the Knot et The End of Second Class reproduisent les arguments juridiques et les stratégies de litige utilisés par les défenseurs des mariages entre personnes de même sexe. J'analyse, plus particulièrement, comment les deux films présentent ces procès à l'aide de trois thèmes récurrents: (1) les droits évoluent avec le temps; (2) les droits sont comparatifs; (3) les droits représentent des indicateurs d'une appartenance nationale. Je soutiens qu'en fonction de ces idées, Tying the Knot et The End of Second Class réintroduisent inconsciemment certaines notions dominantes de ce que signifie avoir une appartenance nationale pleine et égale et, par conséquent, délimitent ce que veut dire être un « bon » citoyen sexuel.

Research Article
Copyright © Canadian Law and Society Association 2009

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11 It is beyond the scope of this article to outline in any detail the range of alternatives to state-based recognition of same-sex marriage. I would, however, suggest a reworking of state-based benefits and obligations along the lines recommended by the Law Commission of Canada (LCC) in Beyond Conjugality (Ottawa: LCC, 2001), Scholar The LCC recognized that the law does not always recognize the diversity of relationship choices made by Canadians and called on governments to pursue a more comprehensive and principled approach to the legal recognition and support of the full range of close personal relationships among adults. In order to accomplish this, as the LCC realized, a fundamental rethinking of the way in which governments regulate relationships is in order. Such rethinking is unlikely to occur if activists are satisfied with achieving inclusion.

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