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For Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, it was a landmark Tuesday morning filled with tears, hugs and gratitude.
Alongside allies like filmmaker Rob Reiner and the plaintiffs in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger lawsuit that sought to overturn the Proposition 8 gay marriage ban, Black learned of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that the state ballot measure passed by voters in 2008 violated the U.S. Constitution.
Black, a board member of American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group created to support the four plaintiffs in the case, learned of the 2-1 decision at around 10 a.m. Tuesday while surrounded by about a dozen people in the downtown Los Angeles law offices of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, which represents AFER.
“It is not cheers and high fives — it is hugs and a far too long delayed sense of respect. So there are tears,” Black, an outspoken opponent of the ballot measure, told The Hollywood Reporter. “It was an overwhelming sense of gratitude and almost reverence for what it means to be an American in this country and to finally be told that you are equally respected and you will be equally protected in this country.”
The federal appeals court’s decision to overturn California’s ban on gay marriage sets up a likely showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over the issue of whether marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. Proponents of Proposition 8 have vowed to appeal, and the case could reach the high court as early as next year.
“Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California,” the court ruled. (Read the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision here.)
The celebrating group also included Gibson Dunn star attorneys Ted Olson (who led the legal team along with David Boies) and Ted Boutrous, and plaintiffs Kristin Perry, Sandra Steir, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo. Black said that the AFER attorneys were emailed the decision and immediately set to work parsing the 39-page document. He said “a chorus of people” quickly pronounced victory. “It only took a couple of minutes before it was clear we had won.”
Black said that while he would celebrate the victory, there is more work to be done. The court left in place a stay, which means that gay marriages may not resume in California.
“We do have to wait and see what our opponents’ next move is,” said Black, who won the 2009 Oscar for best original screnplay for Milk, which chronicled the life of slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk. “We also have to see what the U.S. Supreme Court decides to do. At this point we are celebrating a victory. Tomorrow we will get back to the hard work to make sure that marriage applies to every citizen in this country.”
The ruling upheld a decision by retired Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who struck down the ballot measure in 2010 after holding an unprecedented trial on the nature of sexual orientation and the history of marriage.
“This means so much to us in California and so much to those across the country who want to be married and feel that is in their future,” said Black, whose credits also include J. Edgar and several episodes of HBO’s Big Love. “Tonight and tomorrow morning young people across the country — young LGBT kids — are going to hear that the government respects them and values them and will protect them. That is a life saving message.”
On March 3, George Clooney will star as Boies opposite Martin Sheen, who will play Olson, in a one-night benefit staging of 8, a play Black has written based on the trial transcripts. Reiner is directing the production, which will take place at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles.
In November, Reiner, who is also an AFER board member, told THR that he also is developing a film based on the legal challenge to Proposition 8.
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