October 17, 2008 / 12:57 AM / in 9 years

California gay marriage fundraiser reaches for stars

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Battling to save the right to same-sex marriage in what is expected to be a close state vote next month, California gay rights backers are turning to Hollywood celebrities for help at a major fundraiser.

<p>Mary J. Blige, wearing Michael Kors and Lorraine Schwartz jewellery, arrives for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala, "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy" in New York, May 5, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>

Actress and singer Barbra Streisand is expected at the event on Tuesday and singers Melissa Etheridge and Mary J. Blige will perform, organizers said on Thursday.

Supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle will host the event at his Beverly Hills home, with a private $25,000-a-plate dinner. Among other entertainment figures planning to attend are actor/director Rob Reiner.

In recent weeks, director Steven Spielberg and actor Brad Pitt each donated $100,000 in support of the campaign to preserve the right to gay marriage.

The fundraiser comes as backers of same-sex marriage fight to stem a tide of support for Proposition 8, a November 4 ballot measure that seeks to define marriage under the California Constitution as only between a man and a woman.

A poll released last week by Survey USA showed 47 percent of Californians supported the measure, while 42 percent opposed it.

“We’re feeling very good about the surge in the campaign,” said Sonja Eddings Brown, a spokeswoman for Protect Marriage, the group advocating for a “Yes” vote on Proposition 8.

The “Yes” campaign has raised $25.4 million, compared with $15.8 million for those who wish to maintain the right to gay marriage.

In recent weeks, advocates of same-sex marriage have chided the Hollywood community for failing to contribute cash to the campaign to defeat Proposition 8.

But Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said the fundraiser would show Hollywood’s support for same-sex marriage rights.

“Having support from Hollywood leaders who are visible, who reach a wide audience, is critical to our success,” Kors said.

“It’s always really scary when you’re being outspent 2 to 1 in an election, and when your rights are at stake and someone’s trying to take your rights away,” he added.

In recent days, opponents of same-sex marriage have stepped up their television advertising and warned voters that if Proposition 8 is defeated, children will be taught about gay marriage in elementary schools.

Gay-marriage supporters call that argument misleading.

In California, an estimated 11,000 same-sex couples have married since the state’s highest court in May overturned a state ban on same-sex marriage.

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and actress Portia de Rossi wed in August in one the most high-profile same-sex unions. Etheridge has said she plans to marry girlfriend Tammy Lynn Michaels before November 4.

DeGeneres released an online video message this week urging California voters to strike down Proposition 8.

Gay and lesbian marriage was legalized last week in Connecticut, bringing to three the number of U.S. states that allow it. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Jill Serjeant and Peter Cooney)

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