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Hollywood Takes Vow of Marriage Equality

Can rights to rites trample on those who would limit them?

Adding to the aura of inevitablity around same-sex marriage is the presence of media companies taking a stand in what has been a culturally divisive issue by signing on to an amicus brief calling for the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as it comes before the Supreme Court on March 27.

The Walt Disney Co., CBS Corp. and Viacom were among the names on the list. Comcast this month announced it was contributing $1.5 million in advertising time to a Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation campaign.

It’s striking that a cultural wedge issue has shifted in public opinion to such a degree that corporations, and media companies in particular, don’t consider it too polarizing to touch, and are even willing to take a strong position.

As Fred Sainz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, points out, only five companies dared to step up four years ago against Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Now, with the Supreme Court weighing the constitutionality of both the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8, it’s like a bandwagon of hundreds has signed on, any skittishness giving way to the benefits of being on the rights side of a civil rights battle.

But that bandwagon feeling also has given fodder to those who would limit the right to marry, who complain of being ridiculed and even silenced in public debate, marginalized in a culture that points toward a “Modern Family” family.

A case in point came earlier this month, when DC Comics put on hold its plans to publish an Orson Scott Card-penned Superman story when the artist dropped out of the project, the target of an online protest, including a petition, of Card’s views on same-sex marriage. At the time of the original Prop 8 battle, Card most famously called for an overthrow of the government should the proposition fail. Card’s fiction may be separate from his politics, but his active role as a member of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, one of the leading groups fighting to ban same-sex marriage, has been as public as the protests against him.

The result has been cries of McCarthyism among some opponents of same-sex marriage, and of blacklisting among some conservatives.

“If you’re an outspoken religious or political conservative in the entertainment industry, it’s open season by the liberal media, not just on your beliefs but on your right to work,” wrote Jeffrey Meyer of the conservative Media Research Council, in a story tweeted by the National Organization for Marriage.

Card himself isn’t commenting. But nearly 10 years ago, in a rambling essay arguing against same-sex marriage, he predicted that court approval of gay nuptials created a situation where “anyone who opposes this edict will be branded a bigot; any schoolchild who questions the legitimacy of homosexual marriage will be expelled for ‘hate speech.’ ”

As extreme as it sounds, does he, on a free speech level, have a point?

After all, in Hollywood, where there’s still some risk to performers coming out of the closet, there’s also backlash to those who say marriage is only that between a man and a woman, and certainly a furor over anything that smacks of antigay views. Mario Lopez caught flak last year for tweeting a Sunday craving for Chick-fil-A, on the heels of a nationwide boycott and counterprotest over a high-level company exec’s support of groups fighting against LGBT rights.

The fact that the legal effort against Prop 8 was financed and led by entertainment industry activists perhaps only further isolates social conservatives in the business.

Sainz says the HRC is respectful of those who have religious points of view, but he also notes that there is a “marketplace of ideas.” Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from furor over it. “The truth is,” he says, “this is simply the marketplace at work.” The risks of coming out, which were in full force when Ellen DeGeneres did just that on the cover of Time in 1998, have given way, Sainz says, to the perils of openly discriminating against people you don’t want to be married.

Jay Michaelson wrote in a report for Political Research Associates that the argument that there is a threat on “religious liberty” is really an attempt to reframe the debate, inverting victim and oppressor. “And there is a strong popular appeal to some basic arguments; after all, no one wants to abridge religious freedom.”

No matter what happens in the coming Supreme Court showdown, it’s an argument we will hear more of — one of tolerance by the intolerant — even as the demographic realities of what will be the next norm are changing.

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