October 2, 2008 / 7:47 PM / 10 years ago

Hollywood urged to give more to save gay marriage

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood, long considered a bastion of liberal thinking, is being chided for not opening its wallet to save the right to same-sex marriage in California even as several A-list gays and lesbians rush to the altar.

Ellen DeGeneres (L) and Portia de Rossi arrive at the 16th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Party to celebrate the Academy Awards, the Oscars, at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California, February 24, 2008. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

With a month to go before a November 4 referendum seeking to abolish the newly won right of same-sex couples to marry in California, some in the entertainment community are anxious that more of their own are not supporting gay rights by donating money to defeat the proposed ban.

So far, the largest celebrity donations have come from actor Brad Pitt and director Steven Spielberg who each contributed $100,000 each last month to help defeat the ballot proposal, known as Proposition 8.

“We are concerned that the entertainment industry hasn’t stepped up to the plate to fight this unnecessary initiative ... Now it’s time for the entertainment industry as a whole to take the lead,” activist Jonathan Lewis said on Wednesday.

Lewis, an entrepreneur from Ohio, said his family would match the next $500,000 that entertainment industry leaders contribute to the “No on Prop 8” campaign.

Hundreds of gays and lesbians have married since a May decision by the California Supreme Court overturning a state ban on same-sex marriage.

But opponents of the ruling put the issue up for a state-wide referendum that seeks to amend the California constitution to allow marriage only between a man and a woman.

Recent opinion polls show that 38 percent of California voters would support a ban on same-sex marriage with 55 percent opposed. But supporters of the ban, including several religious and conservative groups, have edged ahead in fund-raising.


By late September, opponents of gay marriage had raised $14.7 million, while supporters brought in $13.5 million, according the official records.

An article in the Los Angeles gay magazine In-LA last month headlined “Mega A-Gays Missing in Fight Against Prop 8” noted that state records show Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Melissa Etheridge, Rosie O’Donnell and international gays such as Elton John have not contributed any cash.

But many in Hollywood also argue that the high-profile wedding of popular chat show host DeGeneres to actress de Rossi in August brought the kind of publicity money cannot buy.

DeGeneres, who in 1997 became the first openly gay lead character on U.S. prime-time network TV, also has used her talk show and an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to urge Californians to maintain same-sex marriage.

Still, says Steve Smith, a consultant for the “No on Prop 8” campaign, money is important.

“California is a very expensive state to communicate with voters. Celebrity money in some ways goes a little further. It gets more reported and that adds to the benefit of the contribution itself,” Smith said.

“My guess is that after Pitt and Spielberg’s donations we are going to see more of that money,” Smith added.

To bolster its funds, the “No on Prop 8” campaign will hold an entertainment industry fundraiser this month.

However, celebrity giving can backfire.

“On word that Brad Pitt had donated $100,000 to the No campaign, we had an individual who read that and himself donated $100,000 to us,” said Jennifer Kearns, spokeswoman for the “Yes on Prop 8” campaign. “So sometimes the high-profile nature of these things can have the unintended effect of helping the other side.”

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh

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