Hollywood & Politics: Dustin Lance Black Blames Obama and Romney for the Mess of Gay Marriage (Opinion)

Issue 15 FEA Dustin Lance Black Illustration - P 2012
Riccardo Vecchio

Issue 15 FEA Dustin Lance Black Illustration - P 2012

The screenwriter and anti-Prop 8 activist says both candidates are "up in the air" on the equal rights issue.

This story originally appeared in the May 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

I had the honor of watching President Obama sign away the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. And I have applauded his Justice Department's progress on LGBT issues, but after all the hope and change LGBT people were promised four years ago, many are frustrated with Obama's sluggish, self-described "evolution" on the issue of marriage equality.

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The fact that Obama says his position is "evolving" indicates change, but that simply leaves me hoping again. Is this "evolution" akin to a message from a good friend, who, after an argument, has stepped onto an L.A.-to-N.Y. red-eye? He can't fall asleep until he sends that e-mail saying, "Hey, I'm at 30,000 feet (over the swing state of Ohio). Don't worry, I'll make things right when I finally land in (the equality state of) N.Y." Possibly. Hopefully. The problem is, when the president flies, he's on Air Force One, a plane designed to refuel in the air. He can stay up there for as long as it serves him.

On paper, it's often tough to discern how Obama's views on marriage differ from, say, GOP superstar Gov. Chris Christie, who believes separate-but-equal civil unions are just fine. And that actually puts the president behind the national polls, Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, Cindy McCain and many Republicans in the New York, New Hampshire and Maryland legislatures who support marriage equality.

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Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has secured the leading-man role in the GOP's play for the White House. Like Romney, I grew up a devout Mormon, but I'm also a gay man who has worked to get the federal government to embrace full marriage equality. And that puts me in a rather unique position to examine these candidates' stances from a very personal perspective. Unfortunately, it seems both are up in the air on the issue. The question is, which one might finally come down to Earth?

For me, the most telling marriage-equality moment thus far was Romney's disclosure of his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, showing that he still pays a full and complete tithe to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To Mormons, this signals an investment in maintaining his Temple Recommend -- allowing him access to the temples and covenants that are essential to LDS salvation and signifying the recipient is living in strict obedience to the highest laws of the church. I can appreciate that. Much of my family and many friends do the same. But this also reflects a deep investment in core LDS beliefs -- including the promise of an afterlife reserved only for heterosexual Mormons married in an LDS temple. Full tithe and obedience in exchange for his own planet in heaven to send down the spirit children he creates with his heavenly wife. Procreation here and in heaven, that's the LDS view of marriage. Marriages for gay and lesbian families fly in the face of those core beliefs.

I'm not suggesting that Mormons (or others with deeply held religious views) are incapable of separating belief from governing philosophy, but the recent revelation that Romney donated to one of the most anti-gay groups in the nation, the National Organization for Marriage, signed its pledge calling for a constitutional amendment banning equal marriage and subsequently received its full endorsement would indicate he won't. It seems Romney's thinking on the matter is stuck way, way up in the air -- all the way up in the Mormon conception of heaven.

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So, barring a last-minute revelation from the Latter-day Saints prophet that gay and lesbian families should be treated equally (akin to the church finally embracing black equality in 1978), many will be left to bet on HOPE again. It's simply the safer choice when future heaven babies threaten to rule federal marriage policy.

If you detect a lack of enthusiasm, well, I'm not alone. But that doesn't mean checking out or giving in. Nor should we surrender our dignity in the name of political strategy, lest our vote be forever taken for granted.

So until the president publicly puts his wheels down on the side of full equality, he must be passionately engaged, confronted and protested for maintaining his prejudiced, hurtful public position. If his evolution continues to fall short, then those interested in equality in this country must abandon their support. Hope should never become delayed disappointment.

This might strike some as severe, but the stakes are high. This isn't just about rings. Until young people in all 50 states are born into a country in which the federal government respects and protects their love, their lives and their future families equally, the bullies will be emboldened, self-esteems will be crushed and deaths among young people in my community will continue.

So to both candidates, I say this: The time to get your feet on the ground is now. Too many earthly American lives are at stake.

Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk, also wrote J. Edgar and the play 8, a re-enactment of testimony that led an appellate court to overturn California's Proposition 8. He is a founding board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.