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Karen Ocamb: ‘Hollywood gays: Maine’s marriage battle has national consequences’

Cross-posted from LGBTPOV.COM.

Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen and political consultant Chad Griffin, self-described “partners in something,” hosted a fundraiser for the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign Tuesday night at the Hollywood Hills home shared by Cohen and his husband Gabe Catone.

Cohen pointed out that exactly one year ago, he, Griffin and a number of others were “knee-deep” in putting on a huge fundraiser at the home of Ron Burkle to fight Prop 8.  Tuesday night’s event for Maine raised $50,000, which Cohen described as a “huge amount” considering Maine’s original total campaign budget of $1.4 million.

The rest of Karen’s post, including many wonderful photos of the event, below the fold.

The fundraiser was attended by several longtime high-powered Hollywood political activists such as entertainment lawyer Allan Hergott and new media entrepreneur Skip Paul (pictured with Curt Shepard), as well as actress Mary McCormack, LA City Controller Wendy Greuel, and a slew of political policy “wonks,” as Cohen described them, including Liberty Hill’s Vincent Jones, fundraiser John Gile.

Many of those in attendance have already been working on behalf of the Maine effort: Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors and Marriage Project Director Marc Solomon have set up remote phone banking for both Maine and Washington state; Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs has dispatched four fulltime staffers and 11 volunteers to Maine, including incredible Julia Rosen for field work while prodigious Eden James has been helping lead a strong blogger campaign; and political consultant and California Against Hate’s Fred Karger made national news challenging the National Organization for Marriage in the Maine Ethics Commission.

Political fundraiser Mark Walsh, Hillary Clinton’s national LGBT outreach director during the primary, was there as part of a national fundraising effort for Maine.

Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, one of the two same sex couples in the Ted Olson-David Boies federal challenge to Prop 8, sponsored by the Griffin-lead American Foundation for Equal Rights, were also there.

Cohen explained that the federal marriage case and what’s happening in Maine are:

“all one piece – this national movement towards full federal rights and towards the day when we can all get married in this country.

When (the federal challenge to Prop 8) makes it up to the highest court that it ends at –  how many states have marriage is going to be a huge part of that victory. So it very much impacts all of us in the state of California and everyone concerned with Prop 8 what happens in Washington state (where an initiative to keep Domestic Partnerships is on the ballot) and in Maine on Nov 3 – and in the District of Columbia where we could have marriage recognized from all over the world – and in New York state where marriage may pass in the next couple of weeks. There’s a lot of amazing and exciting stuff happening.

But we have this huge battle in Maine coming up in two weeks and it’s the same situation as in California. Same sex marriage existed there – it was passed by the Legislature – and now the voters are trying to take it away. The effects – if they succeed in doing that – would be completely devastating to the movement of ours moving forward.

And on the other hand – if we can win this one – it sends such a huge message to the country, to the President, to the Senate, to the House, to the media, to ourselves – that we are moving forward on the right track to full equality for all of us.”

Mark Walsh, (pictured here in the middle with old Massachusetts friend Marc Solomon on the right and EQCA’s Geoff Kors) described the No on 1 campaign’s fundraising effort and how that has translated into TV ads and field outreach.

Walsh said that he became involved in the Maine campaign after Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Joe Solmonese approached him during the summer in Massachusetts and noted that the LGBT community is “0-30,” losing every single gay relationship battle. But, Solmonese told him, “there is a real opportunity to win” in Maine but they needed national money.

Walsh told the gathering:

“We’ve actually never had equal marriage rights in Maine – it’s been stayed until this ballot initiative actually happens. So the opportunity we have in Maine is, for the first time, for us to actually affirm equal marriage rights.

I think what’s so special about Maine is that – because it was legislatively passed – the political community in Maine has really embraced equal marriage rights. It was fascinating to me to go up to Maine and meet the Speaker of the House – Hannah Pingree – and the Senate President – Libby Mitchell – who are so invested in equal marriage rights.

This isn’t a conversation about special rights. It’s a conversation about equal rights and treating everybody the same. And that’s what this campaign is all about – is Maine values are that everybody is treated the same. So what’s really great is that I think we’re seeing the onversation about equal marriage rights has been changing and Maine can really lead the way there.”

Walsh also noted that the battle in Maine is being watch by people nationwide for clues as to how to take the next step.

“This is going to be a lesson for us all on how we need to come back to other states.  We did an event in New York and I had a Republican state senator from New Jersey who said, ‘You know, we’re watching what goes on in Maine to see whether we should pass marriage in the Legislature.’ So I think it’s going to have a real effect in other states and on equal marriage rights across the country.

I chatted with actress Mary McCormack (In Plain Sight, The West Wing) – who was thrilled to meet LA City Controller Wendy Greuel – a longtime LGBT supporter from the days when she worked as a staffer for LA Mayor Tom Bradley. McCormack said Bruce Cohen is “one of my great and best friends and I feel lucky” that he involved her in the LGBT movement for equal rights.  But, she said:

“I just feel so dumbfounded by the whole thing – I just cannot believe that this is still an issue. I mean I actually don’t have room for it in my head so I feel like when I see pictures of the civil rights movement with the German Shepards and the hoses and the Suffragettes and all those photographs – and I think well how could that have happened? No way.  That has to have been the Middle Ages!

I feel that way about this. It’s like a bad dream. I just can’t believe that my daughters [ages 2 and 5] will grow up – I honestly hope and believe that they will not have any context for this. I really think they’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, back up. You care about who loved who?’

And I feel the fact that we’re not there already is a shanda (“scandal” in Yiddish) and a complete shame on our country. And so I feel we all have to get involved and fast – really fast.”

For more information go to No on 1/Protect Maine Equality.

And find out more about Equality California’s remote phone banking for Maine and Washington state.

Other shots:

Andrew Ogilvie, Roberta Conroy, and Geoff Kors

Mary McCormack and husband Michael Morris

Fred Karger with Maineer Kevin Miniter

Mark Walsh with Ellen Greene

Rick Jacobs chatting with Chad Griffin

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