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Dustin Lance Black: Supreme Court Ruling Means ‘Clear Path for Marriage Equality in All 50 States’

Hollywood figures, media companies react to same-sex marriage decisions

Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” wrote a play called “8,” which has been performed around the country more than 400 times, chronicling the trial over California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

After Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings, he said that he has a hope for what happens to “8” five or 10 years from now: “That it turns to garbage, that it is in the dustbin because it is so outdated.” In other words, that same-sex marriage becomes so much a matter-of-fact that it is no longer an issue.

“I think these two decisions combined create a clear path for marriage equality in all 50 states; I don’t think there’s a legal scholar around who has read the decision who would disagree,” Black said of the rulings, in which the high court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and, by ruling that defenders of Prop 8 lacked standing to bring the case, effectively invalidated California’s ban on same-sex nuptials.

His sentiments were echoed throughout the industry, where support for same-sex marriage is widespread, and even from media companies that signed on to an amicus brief urging the court to overturn DOMA.

Black is on a the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization of show biz and political activists set up to pursue the Prop 8 case, with Ted Olson and David Boies as the lead attorneys. Black has been an outspoken advocate in the LGBT movement, and wrote “8,” performed last year at a benefit in Los Angeles featuring George Clooney and Brad Pitt, as an education and outreach tool.

“It was to make sure that the American public knew the evidence that was presented at the Supreme Court,” Black said. In the near term, he said that he would have to do rewrites based on the high court’s decision. “Now that this case has been decided I hope that this play is an example and a roadmap for other states moving toward full marriage equality.” For example, the play ends with a message that the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case “can’t be married in the country they love. That is not true anymore.”

Chad Griffin, the former president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights and now president of the Human Rights Campaign, on Wednesday called for a goal of marriage equality in all 50 states within five years, in what is expected to be a combination of actions via state ballot initiatives and legislative measures, and perhaps as additional litigation.

While states like Minnesota, Rhode Island and Delaware recently passed marriage equality, Black said that “we will never get equality in some of these states without a federal strategy,” citing southern states where opinion is still heavily against same-sex marriage. The foundation, he said, will meet in the next few days to discuss a plan.

But even though the Supreme Court did not decide the fate of Prop 8 with a sweeping ruling, as some had hoped, it still meant that the initiative was dead, Black noted, and the court essentially said that “no one suffered injury. No one gets hurt when it comes to gay marriage.”

“There is no disappointment,” Black said. “This is joy. This is celebration., but certainly this is a call to action to get to work in states that do not have marriage equality.”

The case undoubtedly changed the trajectory of the LGBT movement. When it was filed in 2009, Black just months earlier had won an Oscar and, in his acceptance speech, called for full federal equality, echoing one of Milk’s mantras that the gay movement “had to stop asking for crumbs.” The fear of some LGBT organizations was that a federal, rather than a state-by-state approach, risked a backlash and an adverse Supreme Court ruling that would prove a major setback. After his Oscar speech, “many people in the gay and lesbian movement pushed back,” Black said. “They had a lot of criticism for this more aggressive style.”

Yet a definitive ruling in district court in 2010, coupled with other cases that challenged DOMA, built support for the federal case, not to mention a rather quick shift in public opinion.

“I think this case has ignited a storytelling movement in this country,” Black said. “It meant we had something to rally around.

“It meant we had a new hero from the conservative realm, who took it out of the red-blue divide,” he added, referring to Olson, the former solicitor general under President George W. Bush.

The most emotional moment for Black came on Tuesday, as he was writing an essay about his older brother, who died of cancer last year and came out to him several years ago. He said that he was “wishing he were here to see this day,” but noted that because his sibling lived in Virginia, he still would not “be feeling the freedom that I feel.”

Show biz figures reacted on Twitter and elsewhere to the court’s decision. Leonardo DiCaprio wrote: “Historic day. Well done SCOTUS.” Damon Lindelof wrote: “Justice Kennedy so hard right now.”

Reflecting the extent to which the case has been elevated to a historic civil rights issue, with consequences for recruitment and corporate image, some media companies shared the same reaction. Viacom was among the more than 200 businessness that urged the court to overturn DOMA, and company senior VP Daniel Mandil wrote on a company blog that they are are “pleased by today’s Supreme Court decisions and couldn’t be prouder to have participated as amicus both in this case and in a related Court of Appeals case.”

“Of course, the fight continues,” Mandil wrote.  “Today’s rulings return marriage law decisions to the states, where Viacom will continue to actively support marriage equality for the LGBT community.”

Photo: Black at a rally in West Hollywood on Wednesday.

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