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Famous Gay Marriages
How some of today's gay celebrity couples are educating a public ready to accept change
Their names are in the news, and they are movers in shakers in today's current cultural and political climate:
-Ellen Degeneres and her wife, Portia de Rossi.
- George Takei and his husband, Brad Altman.
- Neil Patrick Harris and his husband, David Burtka.
They, and many other celebrity couples like them, have helped propel our nation to reexamine the concept of gay marriage as an acceptable, mainstream activity taking place between respectable people of good character - people like our neighbors, our friends, in some cases possibly even ourselves. Through television appearances, books, comedy routines and other facets of pop culture, they have helped redefine the way America looks at gay marriage. Recent polls in the New York Times indicate that more Americans now favor the right of same-sex couples to marry, and even President Obama has come out in support of this right - for him, a complete reversal on the subject. It is becoming increasingly clear that same-sex marriage will eventually be as universally accepted as interracial and interfaith marriage is now, but the road to acceptance in America has been a long, hard run for gay couples.
Outlaw Marriages: Famous American gay couples of the past
The political climate for gay couples was not always as hospitable as it is now. In his new book, Outlaw Marriages, Rodger Streitmatter examines the lives and partnerships of gay men and women who changed the world with their works and ideas - but whose private lives with committed same-sex partners were often kept under wraps. Walt Whitman, pictured right, is famous for his legendary book of poetry, Leaves of Grass, and many people are aware that he was gay. Not as many people are aware that Walt Whitman had a long-term committed relationship with Peter Doyle, a much younger man he met on a streetcar in 1865. Streitmatter claims that some of Whitman's greatest poems, including O Captain! My Captain!, were influenced by Doyle. The two men stayed together until Whitman's death in 1892.
Some of the other couples covered in Streitmatter's book:
- Social and political activist Jane Addams was widely revered for her philanthropic work as the founder of Hull House, a settlement house for displaced women. She was famous as the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was less well-known at the time that Addams shared an intimate connection with one of her supporters, a woman named Mary Rozet Smith.
- Gertrude Stein, an avant-garde author who mentored such literary and artistic giants as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso, had a legendary long-term relationship with Alice B. Toklas. Stein's most famous book is written in the voice of her long-time companion.
- Streitmatter claims that the great Tennessee Williams, famous for such classic plays as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, might have been destroyed by his substance abuse habits early in his career if not for the help of his lover, Frank Merlo.
Gay activism paves the way for superstar celebrity gay couples
The important thing to note about many of these notable gay couples is that in each case, while they were known for the beauty, importance and power of their work, they did not really have the power to influence political and social opinion to accept their life choices on a widespread public scale. My, how times have changed.
In 1970 a student named Jack Baker and his lover, Michael McConnell, won notoriety by suing for the right to marry in the state of Minnesota. This was the first recorded attempt at a legal same-sex marriage in the United States. Their story grabbed the headlines and made the cover of magazines. While the couple lost their appeal to the Supreme Court, they paved the way for such later gay activists as Donna Burkett. The revolution had begun, as is further chronicled in such histories as Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America's First Legal Same-Sex Marriages.
Ellen Degeneres: From "The Puppy Episode" to a same-sex marriage celebration
In 1997, comedienne Ellen Degeneres decided to use her sitcom as a platform for coming out as a lesbian to her audience and as way to advocate in favor of gay rights. The groundbreaking episode, called "The Puppy Episode", was a smash hit, a ratings bombshell that won Degeneres an Emmy and a Peabody Award. Unfortunately, at the time public opinion was still stacked against her and "Ellen" went off the air the following year. Since then, Ellen Degeneres has continued to be a very loud and effective voice in favor of gay rights and same-sex marriage. When she married her girlfriend Portia de Rossi in 2008, Degeneres presented video about their wedding preparations on her daytime talk show, Ellen. Her talk show is still on the air; the tide was beginning to turn.
George Takei: To boldly go where no Star Trek alum has gone before
In 1966, a young Japanese-American actor named George Takei first appeared as a cast member on the classic science fiction series Star Trek. The show was considered ground-breaking at the time because of the comparative ethnic diversity of its cast, which included not only Takei but the African-American beauty Nichelle Nichols as officers on a starship. What the audience did not know at the time was that George Takei was breaking ground on the Starship Enterprise in two areas; he was not only Asian, but gay. He finally came out in 2005. Since then, Takei has been an exuberant and effective advocate for gay rights. In this video from 2010, he and his husband, Brad Altman, encourage gay couples to indicate their relationship for the 2010 census so that the government could get a clearer idea of the number gay people in committed relationships in the United States.
Family Values with Neil Patrick Harris
Can same-sex couples promote healthy family values? Neil Patrick Harris seems to think so. The actor, who first burst onto the American entertainment scene in 1989 as teenaged genius physician Doogie Howser, has emerged in recent years not only as one of our most celebrated sitcom actors on How I Met Your Mother, but as a staunch advocate for gay rights and same-sex marriage. In this 2012 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, Harris and his husband, David Burtka talk about how they conceived their twins and how they take care of the two children, Harper and Gideon.
Parenting with Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka
Other current gay married couples
As gay marriage becomes more and more acceptable to mainstream America, more and more celebrities are becoming honest about their relationships with the most important people in their lives. Some of the most well-known gay couple in the United States:
- Skater Johnny Weir and his husband, Victor Vorono. Once wed, Weir was reported to have declared, "All the official stuff is done now! No more livin' in sin!"
- Talk show host Rosie O'Donnell recently got engaged to her girlfriend, Michelle Rounds.
- Comedienne Wanda Sykes, who was married to Dave Hall from 1991 - 1998, is now married to a woman named Alex.
- David Hyde Pierce, much beloved as the nebbishly charming "Niles Crane" on Frasier, married his lover Brian Hargrove just days before Proposition 8 outlawed gay marriage in California.
For more information on gay marriage in the United States, check out these links:
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