How Obama's Gay Marriage Gamble Opened Hearts — and Wallets — in Hollywood
This story first appeared in the May 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
Political analysts remain divided over whether Barack Obama's May 9 endorsement of marriage equality ultimately will cost him votes in crucial swing states, but there's no doubt that his shift has dramatically energized gays and lesbians to raise money for the president's re-election -- especially in Hollywood.
"I met him when he was running for Illinois senate," says CAA's Bryan Lourd. "We met then and spent time together. I introduced him to a room full of other people the next day. I was convinced. We have all watched him grow into a great leader. He went into office with a great brain. That intelligence and compassion are now married to on the job experience.”
Lourd said he hoped he knew how Obama felt about same-sex couples before the interview with ABC's Robin Roberts. "Obama's statement confirmed what we all believed he felt, Lourd says. "I am proud of the President, Vice President Biden and Arne Duncan. People are more motivated than ever to do whatever they can to see this team re-elected."
Some of the incumbent's top donation bundlers also are openly gay activists with deep roots in the entertainment industry, such as Beverly Hills lawyer Dana Perlman and actor Barry Karas, a former Human Rights Campaign board member.
Industry insiders say the ripple effect of Obama's open support for marriage equality already is being felt. In Los Angeles, Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy and his fiance, David Miller, have agreed to host a June 6 dinner for the president. At $40,000 a couple, the event is expected to sell out. That same evening, a previously scheduled LGBT gala featuring Pink is seeking a bigger venue because of increased ticket demand. Together, the two events are expected to raise millions for the re-election campaign.
On May 14, Obama was in New York for a sold-out fund-raiser co-hosted by Ricky Martin, the LGBT Leadership Council and the Futuro Fund at the Rubin Museum of Art. Tickets for that event started at $5,000. Afterward, 60 people paid $35,800 each to dine with the president at the home of Hamilton "Tony" James, president of the Blackstone Group, the nation's largest private-equity fund.
The surge in gay financial support for the president's re-election comes as a tectonic shift in popular opinion appears to be reshaping the political landscape. In a widely circulated memo, George W. Bush's pollster, Jan van Lohuizen, told GOP operatives that multiple surveys show a decisive national shift across all ages and backgrounds in favor of equal rights for gays and lesbians, including marriage equality.
Lohuizen's explanation for this change, which appears to be accelerating, is particularly interesting: "As more people have become aware of friends and family members who are gay, attitudes have begun to shift at an accelerated pace," he wrote. "This is not about a generational shift in attitudes, this is about people changing their thinking as they recognize their friends and family members who are gay or lesbian."
HOLLYWOOD'S TOP 3 GAY BUNDLERS FOR OBAMA
- Dana Perlman and Barry Karas: Beverly Hills lawyer Perlman and his partner, Karas, an actor, are involved in building a strong gay Latino presence. They've brought in more than $500,000 for the campaign.
- Michael S. Smith and James Costos: Smith, the White House decorator, and Costos, an HBO vp, have raised more than $500,000. In June, the couple hosted a fund-raiser, attended by Michelle Obama, at their Bel-Air home.
- Chad Griffin: Griffin is co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, launched in 2009 with Rob Reiner to overturn California's Prop 8. He's raised between $100,000 and $200,000.