Californian squabbles for and against gay marriage have turned into an utter and complete pisshap. Surprisingly to the rest of the world (and infuriatingly for many a native), California has proven to be a veritable Mississippi when it comes to gay rights. And the strident anti-gayness is hardly limited to “set the air on internal circulation” stretches of middle California. It is true even for Hollywood where everyone, from prostiboot-wearing clubsters to mild-mannered office workers in programmers’ tans, took to the streets to celebrate last week’s ruling that Proposition 8, which outlawed Californian same-sex marriages, was unconstitutional.
Hollywood is a microcosm of California in general. Why? Because of the inherent contradiction that it presents. It attempts to project a progressive image but frequently the only things willing to come out of the closet are dinosaur skeletons with anachronistic agendas aimed at placating homophobic heartland audiences.
“Hollywood celebrities are notoriously liberal, losing no opportunity to endorse Left-wing causes or trumpet their support of Barack Obama,” says British writer Toby Young, “yet the entire showbiz community conspires to protect the carefully cultivated straight identities of its gay members, terrified that if word gets out their fans will turn on them.” Young names a few of these late bloomers: Barry Diller, Nathan Lane, Rosie O’Donnell, Sean Hayes and Ricky Martin.
As much as rainbow flags look perfectly in their element in the liberal mecca that is Hollywood, there is a hypocritical, traditionalist streak that would make Ann Coulter blush in the Hollywood machine. Think about it — why do in-the-closet celebrities take so painfully long to come out to the world? It’s because perpetuating American norms of the heartland pays serious financial dividends. While it may be fashionable to pay lip service to gay rights and include the occasional hilarious gay protagonist in a show or movie, real stabs at equality often escape the industry.
Much to the chagrin of the progressive world, duplicity is true for the state as a whole as well. Worldwide, California has a reputation of being a haven for enlightenment (especially in the larger cities) and yet the state manages to not just slow, but actually dial back progress even on issues of basic human equality. It is unbelievable. After the ban on gay marriage was overturned in May of 2008, California voters famously created ballot initiative Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment titled Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Act. The amendment passed, shocking both California and the rest of the world.
The fact that this unfortunate knee-jerk reaction by California’s social conservatives was overturned as unconstitutional by Judge Vaughn Walker last week does not indicate that California has made much progress, however. Proposition 8 passed with a 52% majority in 2008 so it is hard to know for sure what voters are thinking now.
So what should be done? Liberals cannot underestimated the depth of conservative entrenchment and investment in maintaining the status quo. As we have seen, even in the midst of the huge liberal victory that was the 2008 election, conservatives are scrappy and will do all they can to sabotage the fight for gay rights. As it currently stands, Walker has put a stay on the ruling until August 18, giving opponents of his decision the chance at appeal. When his stay on the ruling expires, same-sex marriage will be possible again. But nobody can really breathe a sigh of relief. Opponents to last week’s ruling have already filed an emergency appeal with the 9th Circuit court and chances are the case will go as far as the Supreme Court.
California is a fickle state and you learn that things are often not as they appear. Avoid putting the bubbly on ice just yet … unless you want to get corkscrewed.