In the fourth episode we did on “All in the Family,” in the very first season (1971), there was a gay character. Archie was always making fun of a friend of my character, calling him “Sweetie Pie,” and it turns out he wasn’t gay, but this ex-football player whom Archie worshipped was gay. That was a big subject that the show wrestled with. Some people weren’t very comfortable with that. It’s been a long, long process to get to where we are today. I remember when Ellen DeGeneres made her announcement, coming out when she was doing her show. I think that was the biggest show-business statement of all, as popular as she was at that time. It’s almost analogous to Caitlyn Jenner appearing now on the cover of Vanity Fair for the transgender community. It’s a landmark.
Four of us were sitting in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel after Prop. 8 passed. Chad Griffin (of Human Rights Campaign) said how crazy it was that a state like California could ban gay marriage. He said, “We’ve got to do something.” We thought there could be another ballot initiative, but then the other side could have another one after that. And we thought we have to do something that will be more permanent. And we thought of a federal court challenge.
Later, a friend called my wife Michelle and said, “I think you might be surprised that (President George W. Bush’s former solicitor general) Ted Olson feels the same way you do about this issue.” I said, “Let’s find out about Ted Olson. It would be a political home run to get him involved and take the partisanship out of it.” (Olson’s 2009 legal challenge, filed alongside Democratic attorney David Boies, led to the overturn of Prop. 8.)
Part of the change is generational. When Obama was running for president in 2008, even some black people of my generation didn’t think America was ready to accept an African-American president. It was my kids’ generation that was saying, “What is the big deal?” Education had happened over time. It’s so heartening to think young people don’t think twice about gay marriage. And I think it’s going to be the same with the transgender community. It’s going to get closer and closer to the ideal that we are all one.
When I started speaking out about this, I said, “Forty years from now, we’ll look back on this the same way we do on women having the right to vote or on African-Americans having civil rights.” It will be kind of quaint. People will wonder what all the fuss was about. Each one of these steps makes us more one country, and reminds us we are all part of the family of man.
Actor, director and political activist Rob Reiner helped launch the American Foundation for Equal Rights, to overturn Prop. 8.