How Hollywood Activists Took Key Role in Gay Marriage Case


With the Prop 8 trial set to start on Monday, Chuleenan Svetvilas, managing editor of California Lawyer, has a lengthy look at how Hollywood activists, led by political consultant Chad Griffin, seized control of the fight for gay marriage.

It’s a fascinating backstory of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, the official name of the federal suit, and the coup was in getting conservative lawyer Ted Olson to lead the challenge along with David Boies. It describes the serendipitous way that Griffin and Rob and Michele Reiner were tipped off to the fact that Olson was a supporter of same-sex marriage, as well as the formation of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group that is backing and funding the suit, and how the two couples who are plaintiffs in the case were selected.

What surprises me is that Griffin and the foundation kept the plans for the suit secret for so many months (until May 27, to be exact), even while raising money for the millions needed in legal costs at fund-raisers in Los Angeles and New York. He has said that the names of the donors will be released eventually, but tells Svetvilas that they also want the Prop 8 proponents to release their list before doing so. This is not to say that they are funding the suit, but during the campaign against Prop 8, Griffin helped secure contributions from producer Steve Bing, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, philanthropist Jonathan Lewis and Brad Pitt, among others.

While the initial reaction to the filing of the suit was a sense of dismay among some gay rights orgs and legal groups — they feared that a suit at the federal level could lead to an adverse decision that will set back the marriage movement — those tensions have cooled. Some anxiousness remains about strategy, even as Olson and the legal team remain convinced that they will have the votes in the Supreme Court.

Ted Boutrous, who is heading the California side of the legal team, tells Svetvilas, “I think there’s a degree of stereotyping that goes on concerning the justices. Everyone thinks they know exactly how they’re going to vote, based on who appointed them. We reject that kind of rigid analysis.”

Meanwhile, there will be a hearing on Wednesday on whether to televise the trial, and U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is now taking public comments on whether to do so. Prop 8 proponents, such as Focus on the Family, are asking supporters to file comments opposing the bid to broadcast, while orgs like the Courage Campaign are asking their rank-and-file to weigh in with their support.

Update: Judge Vaughn Walker is allowing cameras and audio at the hear tomorrow on whether to allow the trial to be televised, in what observers consider a chance to see how it all works. The Ninth Circuit approved his request for cameras.

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