Prop. 8 opponents know war isn't over
VIDEO: Ruling 'brings me to tears,' says Dustin Lance Black
"This just in: Equality won!" Ellen DeGeneres jubilantly posted on Twitter as word spread throughout Hollywood on Wednesday that a federal judge had overturned Proposition 8, California's gay marriage ban.
"And justice is served. We are equal once more. God bless the letter of the law," director-producer Adam Shankman chimed in a few moments later with a tweet of his own.
But screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, one of a handful of Hollywood heavyweights who helped fund the case by forming the American Foundation for Equal Rights, also warned that the battle for gay and lesbian rights is far from over because the potentially landmark case is being appealed by Protect Marriage -- a coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored the ban -- to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and from there could go to the Supreme Court.
"We're all celebrating today, but everyone who worked on this, we've all cried at moments where we thought it wasn't going to happen," he told THR from West Hollywood Park, where a victory rally took place Wednesday evening. "We have to do work in the gay and lesbian movement nationally because we know it's going to go to a national stage. We need to push those poll numbers. We have to get our message out to all 435 congressional districts in this country that our relationships are worthy of equal protection."
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker endorsed that sentiment in his 136-page ruling that said the proposition was unconstitutional under the due process and equal-protection clauses.
"Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples," he wrote.
The case, known as Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, was filed on behalf of two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco after Californians voted to ban same-sex marriage in November 2008, five months after the state Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.
Attorney Ted Olson, who with David Boies argued on behalf of the plaintiffs, said after the ruling that the case would "make a change in this country so that gay and lesbian individuals are treated with the respect that other citizens take for granted and have the freedoms that other citizens take for granted. We hope that that will be the outcome at the end of this trail."
At first, Olson and Boies looked like a legal odd couple because they famously faced off in 2000 before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, which decided the contested presidential election.
They were brought together by a group of Hollywood insiders, led by political strategist Chad Griffin, who was lunching with director Rob Reiner and his wife, Michele Singer Reiner, at the Polo Lounge, lamenting the passage of Prop. 8, when a friend dropped by their table and suggested they might find a sympathetic ally in Olson.
Although dubious at first, Griffin discovered that Olson was ready to take on the challenge, suggesting that they also enlist Boies. To support the effort, Griffin organized AFER, on whose board the Reiners, Black and Bruce Cohen, who is producing the upcoming Oscar show, all sit.
"It's the last piece of the civil rights puzzle, left undone for a long time," Rob Reiner told THR at the West Hollywood rally. "The fact that we have one class of people in this country treated differently than everybody else is unacceptable, and this is the first step toward making sure that everybody is treated with dignity and equality."
Although some skeptics regarded the court challenge as a long shot, Cohen said of its successful outcome: "Our expectations were to bring this issue to the attention of the court, to the state and to the nation as a whole. You never know when you start something where it is going to go. It was so clear to all of us and to so many people that there was just no way discriminating against LGBT people was constitutional in the state of California. To that end, our hope was that we would get a ruling very much like this one."
Although the case faces hurdles as it goes through the appeals process, Black said: "We're all incredibly grateful for the work the judge put into this. When you look at the length and depth of his ruling, he's really set this stage for us to do well at the 9th Circuit and at the U.S. Supreme Court. I'm incredibly grateful for his hard work; it's not something he took lightly -- that's clear from this ruling. It brings me to tears to think what good he did for young gay people across this country today."
Reactions were not unanimous across the political spectrum.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the decision, saying it "affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider our history of leading the way to the future and our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity."
"Judge Walker's ruling overturning Prop. 8 is an outrageous disrespect for our Constitution and for the majority of people of the United States who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife," conservative politician Newt Gingrich said on his website.
Reed Cowan, director of the documentary "8: The Mormon Proposition," which investigated Mormon support for the initiative, said the decision sends a message to Mormons and other religions that "work to influence the political process."
"Much of the information that came before the court in this matter appeared in our film, and I am overjoyed that the sway of fact bent the judge's decision toward equality," said Cowan, whose next project will reteam him with Black and the Trevor Project for a film examining the high incidence of suicide among gay kids in the faith community.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it regretted the ruling, although church spokeswoman Kim Farah cautioned, "There is no doubt that today's ruling will add to the marriage debate in this country, and we urge people on all sides of this issue to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different opinion."
Despite the favorable ruling, gay marriage will not be allowed to resume immediately. Walker said he wants to decide whether his order should be suspended while the proponents of the ban pursue their appeal and ordered both sides to submit written arguments by Friday on the issue.
But that hardly put a damper on the celebration for Nikki Weiss and her longtime friend and partner, Jill Goldstein, who on Showtime's "The Real L Word" are seen in the midst of wedding preparations.
"This is a remarkable win for everybody," Goldstein said. "But for Nikki and I to be in the midst of planning our wedding, to learn that we can be recognized legally, it's hard to put words to it."
Added Weiss: "We're going to continue forward; we have all the plans under way, but to know that this is not only a marriage in our hearts but also recognized by the state, I feel like there's an additional surge of excitement injected into the planning process. It's overwhelming."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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