When Hollywood needed to find a star for the movie Milk, about a San Francisco gay politician named Harvey Milk who was murdered in 1978, tough guy Sean Penn showed he could morph into any character at all. He disappears into the role of Milk with tenderness and true artistry. Penn and his co-stars – James Franco, Emile Hirsch, and Diego Luna – felt totally comfortable playing gay roles, which shows how times have changed in Hollywood. Previously, playing that type of role could have kept an actor off the A list, so progress has been made. However, top stars who are actually gay don’t feel safe enough to come out of the closet yet, so there is still a long way to go. It’s rather like gay rights.
In watching Harvey Milk’s 1978 battle against California’s Proposition 6, which would have banned gay teachers in public schools, audiences can’t help but ponder the halting progress on gay rights in light of the current battle raging over gay marriage. Gays and countless straight supporters took to the streets to protest what they saw as an assault on civil rights over the passage of Proposition 8, which effectively banned gay marriage in California. What would Milk have done? “He’d be right there on the streets with the marchers,” film director Gus Van Sant said.
Using broadcast film footage of the 1970s battles over gay rights, Van Sant shows how Milk, a community organizer, urged gays to come out of the closet. Milk knew that the more interaction there was between straights and gays, the more voters would understand what impact their vote would have. Milk’s message is just as valid today.
Gay marriage came to California this past June. Gay weddings flourished (over 18,000 of them), long-time couples celebrated, gay families with children were thrilled to be part of the legally recognized community. The summer wedding frenzy was set off by the May decision of the California Supreme Court, in its landmark marriage case, that said same-sex couples have a “right” to marry.
Others weren’t the least bit pleased. Those who deemed marriage to be a sacred union between a man and a woman – ONLY a man and a woman – and not a matter of legal contracts and civil rights, objected. So they put forth Proposition 8 to insert in the State constitution the words: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Fifty-two percent of Californians voted yes on Prop 8 and it passed – right into an emotional uproar, protests on the streets, and legal rebuttals.
Now those words are before the California Supreme Court, which has agreed to a hearing of the legal challenges to Prop 8. The following issues are involved:
* Are the words a simple amendment or are they a constitutional revision, which should have required a two-thirds vote of the legislature?
* Does Prop 8 violate the constitutional separation of powers by restricting the judges’ authority to protect the rights of same-sex couples?
* Does Prop 8 invalidate the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place between June 16th and the election?
If the justices uphold Prop 8, those who back gay marriage plan to put a measure before voters in 2010 to re-amend the state Constitution. If they toss out Prop 8, the opponents of gay marriage may put something back on the ballot or may even try to oust the Supreme Court justices by recall!
The justices are evidently divided on how to resolve the case. Their decision to delay hearings until as late as March without putting a stay on the law indicates conflict. That means that there will be no more gay marriages in California until oral arguments are heard. Justice Joyce L. Kennard reportedly voted not to hear the case at all, but she did agree to hear a case evaluating marriages instituted before the ban was in place. This is not a good omen for those in favor of gays’ right to marry.
There are also legal issues concerning the separation of church and state because of the huge amounts of money contributed by both the Mormon and Catholic Churches. California officials are presently questioning whether the Mormon Church accurately accounted for its role in the Yes on 8 campaign and are investigating their non-monetary contributions, such as phone banks, Web site, and commercials on behalf of Prop 8.
Why would 52% of the voters in California deny a minority the same rights they enjoy? Everyone, in my opinion, should be entitled to the same rights and privileges of marriage. The problem, in a nutshell, seems to be the word marriage. Those who consider marriage to be holy wedlock, rather than merely a legally binding relationship, might be willing to consider passage of civil rights legislation for same-sex partners if something other than the word marriage was used to describe it.
As I travel the country putting on public events where I work with thousands of lonely, depressed, and sick people, I have seen that anytime an individual is willing to make a commitment to a relationship, he is increasing his chances for health and happiness. The main task we have in our lifetime is to learn to love through the difficult lens of relationship. Research shows that established relationships tend to promote stability, so it seems that the more married couples there are, heterosexual or not, would actually benefit society. Instead of judging others and forbidding them from forming a union of happiness, I ask that we allow people to love and support one another. Life is hard enough; why do it alone?
With the Obama team in Washington taking over the reins after the Bush years of division and distrust, and proclaiming that unity and inclusion will be the new themes, I feel deeply that the time has come for us to put aside the things that separate us, including our fear of those whose lifestyles and sexual orientation differ from the norm.
Call it what you will, marriage means union. We can become more tolerant of all who seek union. We can support civil rights for all. And we can learn a lot from Milk.
Deborah King is a health and wellness expert and author of Truth Heals: What You Hide Can Hurt You. Learn more about your own ability to change your life through truth athttp://www.deborahkingcenter.com