Will Hollywood play a bigger role in California’s next round of fighting over same-sex marriages? That was the question for many in showbiz Tuesday after California’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban on such nuptials, approved by a narrow majority of voters in November.
With political activists promising to push for a ballot measure as soon as 2010, the role of the entertainment industry — through activism, money or creative might — is likely to be greater than it was before last November’s election.
Before that vote, many showbiz workers focused their energy on the presidential election rather than on Prop. 8, and the protests got more vocal after the fact. Showbiz activists are vowing this won’t happen again.
The movement may get a showy start tonight as the Courage Campaign, led by docu producer Rick Jacobs, and other groups plan to stage a rally outside the Beverly Hilton Hotel this evening, when President Obama is holding a fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee. The fund-raising event is expected to draw a host of industry donors and entertainment from Jennifer Hudson and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” is planning to speak at a “Meet in the Middle” rally in Fresno on Saturday, with the city chosen as much as a geographical halfway point as it is a way to reach voters outside of liberal enclaves.
In a future campaign, Black told Daily Variety on Tuesday, it is “important that we look at where our money is going” to ensure that sufficient effort is being made to connect with voters via grassroots outreach and education to religious groups and seniors.
“There was not nearly enough of that in the fight over Proposition 8,” he said. “If we reach out to them, share our personal stories, educate them, come out to them, that is how minds are changed.”
Meanwhile, Ted Olson and David Boies, the famed litigators who found themselves on the opposite sides of the Bush vs. Gore recount in 2000, plan to announce a federal lawsuit on Wednesday that seeks to overturn Prop. 8 on the grounds that it violates U.S. constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection.
What could stymie efforts to get a new initiative on the ballot is fund-raising, a tough prospect given voter fatigue and the economy. Potential donors will be perusing the next round of polling data. Activists from Equality California, one of the leading organizations in the No on 8 campaign, are targeting 2010 in part because it is a midterm election and voters won’t be distracted by a presidential race.
Publicist Howard Bragman, who married his longtime partner in July, said, “I think we spent a lot of time speaking to ourselves” before the vote last year. “I think the message of today’s decision is we have to tone down the rhetoric and start building some bridges.”
He added that a greater effort should be deployed to reach Christian groups, Latinos and African-Americans in a “really smart, targeted campaign.”
“I am confident that gay marriage will pass, and we will have it in my lifetime, but we just have to understand that we have to educate people and we have to put a face on this,” Bragman said.
Although many Hollywood types created PSAs and other spots, and the likes of Steven Spielberg and Brad Pitt contributed to the campaign to defeat Prop. 8, the full energy among those in the creative community seemed to come after the election, when protesters took to the streets for marches and rallies. Wanda Sykes spoke to supporters in Las Vegas and announced that she married her same-sex partner just before the law changed. (In its ruling Tuesday, the court did uphold the 18,000 same-sex marriages that were performed last year.) Marc Shaiman created a video, “Prop 8 The Musical,” that instantly became a Web hit.
The movie “Milk,” chronicling the unrestrained efforts of Harvey Milk, was released in November and, for some, played like a roadmap for the successful way to wage a statewide campaign.
Television advertising will be another key battleground, as it was in the weeks leading up to the November election. The Courage Campaign was planning to run pro-same sex marriage cable ad spots in markets throughout the state starting this week.
When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May 2008, hopes were high that the parade of couples seeking to tie the knot would prove a powerful message in and of itself, in particular when such celebrity couples as Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi went down the aisle.
But by September, Yes on 8 donors gained a fund-raising advantage, and polls soon showed support gaining for Proposition 8; efforts to mobilize industry donors and creative types came perhaps too late to shift the results.
In fact, Hollywood’s overall effort stood in contrast to that of Silicon Valley, where industry leaders took out a full page newspaper ad opposing Proposition 8 and Apple and Google took the rare step of openly issuing statements opposing the initiative.
Supporters of Proposition 8 have vowed to fight any new state ballot initiative, but it’s doubtful that they will sway many entertainment figures. In the aftermath of last year’s election, the few who did found themselves the target of protest. The director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Richard Raddon, resigned after his name showed up on the Yes on 8 donor rolls.
Potential donors to a new initiative campaign are expressing caution about a new effort to win same-sex marriage. Philanthropist David Bohnett, co-founder of the Internet firm GeoCities, who contributed more than $2 million to the marriage equality campaign, told Karen Ocamb of Frontiers this month that he “will participate in initiative when we see credible and independent data that we can win with 60% or more of the voters in California, and I believe we have (the) right coalition and campaign leadership in place.”
Bragman said a win won’t be possible unless the deficiencies of the previous campaign are addressed. “We also have to be careful. If we do it next year and we lose again, it is really going to hurt,” he added.