“Based on a true story”. Five words that make any film feel all the more real even before the opening scene; Freeheld is no exception. The film begins in 2002 in New Jersey and stars Julian Moore as celebrated detective Laurel Hester and Ellen Paige as her partner Stacie Andree. The film touches on the very real issue of gay marriage and equality for anyone who is a member of the LGBT community. When Laurel and Stacie begin their relationship, Laurel hides this romantic part of her life from those she works with, as it is hard enough for a woman to be recognised in a male dominated field, let alone a gay woman. The first half of the film runs through a whole year and explores Laurel and Stacie’s relationship as their love for each other strengthens, resulting in them getting a house, a dog and a domestic partnership certificate that had just become recognised in 2004, as actual marriage certificates for gay couples were unfortunately not legalised until 2013, seven years after Hester’s death.
As someone who knows many members of the LGBT community, close friends and even family members, and has seen many fights for equality to which they are completely justified, I was intrigued by the basis of Freeheld and having only heard a little about the true story which inspired the film, I was already on board with the premise.
What makes this film so moving and touching is not just the fact that a dying long term cop is being refused what she is rightly deserved , but also the fact that Freeheld has at least one character who anyone can relate to. Whether they are trying to fight for justice like Laurel, looking after someone they love like Stacie, or just supporting the cause like many of the other characters, anyone and everyone can see some part of themselves in this film, even in the freeholders who are refusing Laurel’s request but losing. I am sorry for all those who may feel uncomfortable about the subject of equality, but it is happening. Sure, the freeholders in the film are just following the rules given to them and basing their opinions on tradition, but times change and the male members of the freeholders are stuck in the past with refusal to move forward.
Of course, the two main arguments that people use against gay marriage are shown in the film: “It’s ruining the sanctity of marriage”, “It says it’s wrong in the bible.” I’m sure everyone has heard these lines before. However, these arguments are disproved throughout the film by the way in which Stacie and Laurel’s relationship is shown, specifically the scene where a priest stands on Laurel’s side and tells the freeholders that Jesus did not in fact say anything on the subject of homosexuality. Stacie is the one who sheds more light on the subject first hand and she takes to the stand on behalf of her partner and tells the freeholders who now hold her life in their hands that she and Laurel’s relationship is just the same as everybody else’s.
Freeheld is a fantastic insight into equality and shows, via multiple straight characters, that one does not have to be gay to fight for them. Sexual preference or gender identity should not be considered a negative trait and everyone should be treated exactly the same because, as the protestors on Laurel’s side show, if a huge community is shunned or treated differently from the majority then they will turn on them and forever be fighting. Freeheld is a beautiful and moving portrayal of one of the first fights for equality that helped inspire many more and successful fights.
The topic of equal rights is still, to this day, a very real issue and something that people are still fighting for and because of Laurel’s fight, they are one step closer to getting the equality that they completely deserve.