How Rob Reiner, Bruce Cohen and Dustin Lance Black Helped Defeat Prop. 8

2012-07 TOWN Proposition 8 H IPAD
Amanda Friedman

From left: Chad Griffin, Justin Lance Black, Bruce Cohen and Michele and Rob Reiners at the Family Equality Council's L.A. awards dinner, held at Universal Studios on Feb. 11.

THR talks to the Hollywood dream team that led the charge to strike down the measure outlawing same-sex marriage.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

It was good casting that killed Prop. 8. Having the right people organize fund-raising, hiring the perfect lawyers and picking the ideal plaintiffs all contributed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' landmark Feb. 7 decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The 2008 California constitutional amendment took away the marriage rights of same-sex couples after they were granted by the state Supreme Court. The new ruling is the biggest step the federal judiciary has taken to affirm the right of gays and lesbians to marry. It goes into effect Feb. 28 unless a stay is granted; Prop. 8 proponents have vowed to take it to the Supreme Court.

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The key players on the anti-Prop. 8 side were political consultant Chad Griffin, Rob and Michele Reiner, Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen and Milk writer Dustin Lance Black, who together formed the American Foundation for Equal Rights in 2009. AFER turned to David Geffen and Steve Bing for early funding and assembled the anti-Prop. 8 legal team of conservative attorney Theodore Olson and David Boies, a Democrat, who faced off against each other in 2000's Bush v. Gore case.

"It was a political home run," says Rob Reiner, who credits cause-marketing expert Kate Moulene of Capian Enterprises with telling him during a chance meeting at the Polo Lounge that Olson, her former brother-in-law, was more progressive on the gay marriage issue than he'd expect. "You've got one of the most conservative lawyers in the country, and he's on our side."(Says Moulene, "Michele and Rob thought I was certifiably crazy when I suggested this.")

"It really was the eureka moment," says Cohen. "Like something out of a good screenplay." Griffin, who had worked with the Reiners on many other political initiatives, says the other key element was the plaintiffs. "When [lesbian couple] Kris Perry and Sandy Stier were testifying, their four boys were in court with tears streaming down their faces when their moms were speaking," says Griffin. He, Olson, the Reiners, Black and the plaintiffs were at the downtown L.A. offices of their lawyers, Gibson Dunn, when they got the news. There were hugs and high-fives all around.

For AFER, the court victory was a twofer -- there was the decision, plus the opportunity to bring the issue of gay marriage even more into the public eye. "The gay civil-rights movement has only found success when we've succeeded in telling our stories and showing who gay and lesbian people truly are," says Black, who wrote 8, a play that dramatizes the legal battle over Prop. 8 and makes its L.A. debut at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre at an AFER fund-raiser March 3. Reiner is directing, with George Clooney playing Boies and Martin Sheen as Olson.

Cohen says the court ruling was especially significant for him. It came just days after he and his husband, Gabriel Catone, who had been married before Prop. 8 was passed, had finalized the adoption of their baby girl. Says Cohen, "We're a family in the eyes of the law."

Who's Funding Pro-Marriage Candidates

Galvanized by the battle to overturn Prop. 8, Hollywood's gay-equality activists have emerged as one of the industry's most effective fund-raising communities. On Feb. 12, HBO programming chief Michael Lombardo and architect Sonny Ward hosted a fund-raiser at their home for former Democratic congressman and combat veteran Patrick Murphy, who is running for Pennsylvania attorney general and has pledged to fight for marriage equality if elected. On a single evening in November, the 2014 re-election campaign of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo -- who led the fight to allow same-sex marriage in that state -- raised a half-million dollars at the Bel-Air home of interior designer Michael Smith and HBO vp James Costos. Guests included Chelsea Handler and J.J. Abrams. And, according to campaign filings, Democratic New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn already has received support from Disney's Rich Ross, Current TV's Brian Graden and media mogul Terry Semel in her bid to become the first openly gay mayor of the most populous U.S. city. – Tina Daunt