Hollywood Plays Key Role in Restoring Same-Sex Marriage to California

David Geffen
Getty Images

Wednesday's pronouncement means same-sex marriages may resume in the state within a month.

A deeply divided United States Supreme Court might have backed away from the opportunity to make gay marriage the law of the land Wednesday, but their procedural ruling in the Proposition 8 case guarantees that it will resume in California — perhaps as early as next month.

That alone makes Hollywood’s crucial intervention in the same-sex marriage issue a landmark in the history of the entertainment industry’s support for human and civil rights.

In fact, the decision to mount a legal challenge to Proposition 8 — which overturned the California Supreme Court’s affirmation of same-sex couples’ right to marry — was reached in that quintessential Hollywood setting: lunch at the Polo Lounge. There political strategist Chad Griffin, now head of the Human Rights Campaign, Rob Reiner and others agreed to seek the help of conservative legal superstar Ted Olson and his liberal counterpart, David Boies, in challenging the ballot measure.

STORY: Supreme Court Strikes Down Marriage Ban: Hollywood Reacts

They filed a federal lawsuit — significantly financed by David Geffen and J.J. Abrams — alleging that Prop 8 violated the U.S. Constitution based on their arguments that the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law. Both Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, another quintessentially Hollywood figure, and his Democratic successor, Jerry Brown, refused to defend Prop 8 on principle, so the measure’s proponents were allowed to argue on its behalf. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker agreed with Olson and Boies and ruled the initiative unconstitutional. When his decision was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Prop 8 proponents appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wednesday, the high court dismissed that appeal, holding that as private citizens, rather than constitutional officers of the state, the plaintiffs had no legal standing in the matter. The entire appeal was sent back to the 9th Circuit with an order to dismiss. That leaves Walker’s ruling as the only legal order still in place and — since Prop 8’s proponents now lack legal standing — there appears to be nothing in the way of California’s resumption of same-sex marriages. (Given the pent-up demand for such ceremonies, this ruling actually qualifies as something of an economic stimulus measure — call it: the wedding planners and caterers full employment act.)

Brown tweeted Wednesday, "I've directed @CAPublicHealth to advise counties to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as 9th Circuit stay is lifted #Prop8."

Writing for an unusual majority in the Prop 8 case, Chief Justice John Roberts held: “We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here. ... The Ninth Circuit was without jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.”

At some point, though, the court will consider a case based on Olson’s and Boies’ equal protection argument on its own merits — and the legal tide, thanks to Hollywood, has turned in favor of marriage equality.