Key Prop 8 Opponents Celebrate Gay Marriage Ruling At Exclusive Hollywood Gathering

Photo by Kelly Serfoss
David Boies and Rob Reiner at Monday's celebration

Norman Lear and wife Lyn, producer Bruce Cohen and the anti-Prop 8 plaintiffs, along with their attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies, gather at Rob Reiner’s Brentwood home to reminisce and celebrate.

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality across the country was not only a victory for gay and lesbians, but also for a tight-knit group of leading Hollywood progressives who conceived the high-stakes legal strategy that helped push the question onto the court’s docket.

Monday, some of them and their supporters gathered in the garden at the sprawling Brentwood home of Rob and Michele Reiner to celebrate the court’s historic ruling. Among those who joined in the festivities were Norman Lear and wife Lyn, producer Bruce Cohen, former L.A. City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, industry PR exec Howard Bragman, Hollywood politics maven Marge Tabankin, and the anti-Prop 8 plaintiffs Kristin Perry, Sandra Stier, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, along with their attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies.

Lear, Democratic Hollywood’s leading elder statesman, said he believed it was time for the country to make good on the promise of “equality opportunity under the law.”

“And make good we did,” Lear told The Hollywood Reporter. “Being able to gather here this evening to celebrate couldn’t be more memorable.”

The site of Monday’s ultra-exclusive event was somehow doubly appropriate, because the Reiners’ home once belonged to the actor/director’s longtime friend and mentor Lear, who once hosted his then-famous Sunday night salons and screenings in the Brentwood house.

The background of Monday’s celebration goes back to the rueful period of self-examination that many Hollywood progressives went through in the aftermath of Proposition 8’s passage in 2008. That measure overturned the California Supreme Court’s ruling that marriage equality was a fundamental right and inserted a definition of matrimony into the state’s constitution that excluded same-sex couples.

The entertainment industry’s pro-gay rights activists, like most Democrats, had been preoccupied with electing Barack Obama that year, and essentially were taken by surprise when the initiative passed. Shortly afterward, a small cadre of Hollywood Dems concerned with the issue — including the Reiners, Lear and then-political consultants Chad Griffin, now head of the Human Rights Campaign, and Kristina Schake, a communications strategist on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — resolved on a high-stakes legal strategy: They would challenge Prop 8 in federal court, asserting that gays and lesbians are entitled to wed under the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection clause.

“We decided to put together a federal court challenge not knowing what that would entail or how we would go about it,” said Reiner, reminiscing on the case at the Monday gathering. “But we wanted something that was going to be permanent.”

Organized as the Foundation for Equal Rights, they sponsored the legal challenge to Prop 8 in a San Francisco Court and recruited the high-powered, bipartisan legal team that ultimately convinced U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker to declare the measure unconstitutional.

The initiative’s proponents appealed to the nation’s high court, which ruled that they lacked the standing to challenge Williams’ ruling. That left marriage equality as the law of California. “The ruling in the Prop 8 case ended up being the basis for a lot of court challenges around the country,” Reiner said.

As a result, it became almost inevitable that a federal district court somewhere in the country would issue a contrary ruling, forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether the equal protection clause guarantees marriage equality in all the states.

Even so, many activists who had worked on the same-sex marriage issue for years were leery of the Hollywood progressives’ strategy of asking the courts to consider the matter an equal protection issue. They preferred a less risky, more slowly paced, state-by-state strategy. But what the entertainment industry activists had sensed — and what they were, in fact, counting on — was that a tectonic demographic and cultural shift was underway across America, tilting the country ever more decisively in favor of gay rights generally and marriage equality in particular.

“I always feel that the right thing in this country eventually happens,” Reiner told THR. “There were a lot of people at the beginning who were a little bit nervous about us filing the lawsuit, that we were getting too far ahead of the curve here. But I always thought this was the right thing to do.”

They also knew that, since writing the majority opinion striking down the Texas sodomy law, one member of the court’s conservative majority, California-born Justice Anthony Kennedy, had shown himself willing to side with the liberals when it came to gay rights.

“We made the political calculation that we had a 5-4 court,” Reiner said. “And that’s what happened.” Kennedy wrote the powerful majority opinion in Friday’s historic decision.

Boies said he believes the ruling sends a message to the entire world. “Everybody is equal,” he said. “And everyone deserves dignity.”

Monday's event was put together by Felix Schein (who did all the communications work around Prop 8) and RALLY, a firm that was originally named Griffin/Schein before Griffin left to join the Human Rights Campaign. RALLY co-hosted the gathering with Gibson Dunn and Boies Schiller.

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