Cynthia Wade’s moving 38-minute documentary film – Freeheld – chronicling New Jersey Police Lieutenant Laurel Hester’s landmark legal battle to transfer her pension to her domestic partner has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Short Subject category.
The film was awarded a Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and picked up eleven additional awards at film festivals in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and Denver.
Detective Lieutenant Laurel Hester spent 25 years defending the citizens of Ocean County, New Jersey. In October 2004, doctors diagnosed Lt. Hester with terminal lung cancer. Hester’s fight for her life soon became an internationally witnessed battle as she tried to pass her pension to her domestic partner – Stacie Andree. Without Hester’s pension, Andree, an auto mechanic, would not be able to afford to keep their home. Had they been a heterosexual married couple, there would have been no issue in passing on the pension.
With less than six months to live, Hester refused to back down when her elected officials – the Ocean County Freeholders – denied her request to leave her pension to Andree. As her battle with the Freeholders intensified and the community became embroiled in the fight, Hester raced against time to provide for the love of her life. Alternating from packed public demonstrations to quiet, tender moments of Hester and Andree at home, the documentary tells the public story of their fight as well as an intimate love story as the couple faces the reality of losing one another.
“I hope this film will inspire someone,” Hester explained in December 2005, six weeks before she passed away. “I hope it gives them courage if they’re dealing with discrimination, as I have. I hope if they have a terminal disease they somehow get hope from listening to my story.”
Just nine months after Hester’s death, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be granted the same rights as married heterosexual couples. On February 19, 2007, New Jersey became the third state to offer civil unions to gays and lesbians. Upon signing the Civil Unions Bill, Governor Corzine sited Hester’s struggle as one of the reasons why this legislation was necessary.
Today, only ten states provide some form of relationship recognition to same sex couples, leaving millions of Americans without the right to mutual health insurance, tax breaks, survivor benefits, hospital visitation and adoption.
Article adapted by Proud Parenting from original press release.