While hundreds, if not thousands, of West Hollywood residents have campaigned over the years for the right for same-sex couples to marry, there are four who stand out for their leadership in various aspects of the long running campaign.
David Codell, attorney: Codell, a West Hollywood attorney, has played a major part in many of the most influential same-sex marriage cases in California and at the federal level. Codell represented Equality California in a successful suit to strike down the “Knight Initiative,” also known as Proposition 22, a California law enacted in 2000 that restricted marriages to those between people of the opposite sex. He also represented same-sex couples in suits that resulted in rulings in 2005 and 2006 upholding the legality of domestic partnerships in California and in a case before the California Supreme Court that ruled that the state must allow same-sex couples to marry (In re Marriage cases).
Codell also represented Equality California and same-sex couples in a suit in which the California Supreme Court upheld the legality of about 18,000 marriages performed during the summer of 2008, when the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages. Months later, the passage of Proposition 8 in a statewide referendum outlawed them. That period was know by proponents of same-sex marriage as the “Summer of Love.” In Hollingsworth v. Perry (regarding Proposition 8) and United States v. Windsor (regarding DOMA), both cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, he co-authored a “friend-of-the-court-brief” on behalf of the Williams Institute, National Women’s Law Center and other women’s legal groups.
Codell currently serves as visiting legal director at the Williams Institute. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and served as law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
John Duran, West Hollywood city council member: In 1985, after the death of his close friend, Scott Fleener, of AIDS, Duran became an AIDS activist and began to fight Prop 64, a 1986 initiative to quarantine and limit employment for people with HIV/AIDS (also known as the LaRouche Initiative). After graduating from law school in 1987, he volunteered as an attorney for ACT UP, the HIV/AIDS activist group, in Orange County. Soon after, he joined the board of Life AIDS Lobby, formed in 1985 to represent AIDS and LGBT interests state-wide and served as its co-chair from 1988 to 1992.
Life AIDS Lobby initiated the fight for domestic partnerships and civil unions in Sacramento, which were legalized in 1999. “Marriage was inconceivable,” said Duran. “We began to create a battery of laws for domestic partners for hospital visitation, conservatorships, wills and estates, etc. — as part of the response to the AIDS epidemic.”
Even with legalization, there was continued opposition to same-sex partnerships. Duran recalls having to fight legislation by Senators Pete Knight and John Doolittle to do away with domestic partnerships.
After Life Lobby closed in 1995, the California Alliance for Pride and Equality (CAPE) was created, and later became Equality California (EQCA), the largest state gay lobby in the nation. Duran served on the EQCA board from 2000 to 2008, and as chair of the board from 2003 to 2008.
EQCA successfully challenged the Knight Initiative (also known as Prop 22), which restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples, in a case before the California Supreme Court. Prop 22 was struck down in Spring of 2008, leading to the marriage of 18,000 same-sex couples before Prop 8 was passed in a statewide referendum in 2008 and banned same-sex marriages.
Duran said EQCA raised $16 million of $40 million spent in the fight again Prop 8. It was “the most expensive battle in gay history,” he said. “It was grueling, difficult work since the polls showed we did not have the numbers to win that battle. We fought hard and lost 52-48 when Obama was elected. It was a great improvement from losing in 2000. But not enough time had passed. Today, we would probably win that fight.”
Elected to the West Hollywood City Council in 2001, Duran is one of only a few openly HIV-positive gay elected officials in the United States.
Brad Sears, CEO of the Williams Institute at UCLA: When the Williams Institute started in 2001, Sears was the only staff member and the Institute had a budget of $100,000 and an endowment of $2.5 million. Today the Institute has 16 faculty and staff members, a budget of over $1.8 million and an endowment of over $17 million. According to Duran, the Institute has provided data, facts and statistics for the challenge to Prop 8 and supplied research for arguments that led to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to strike down Prop 8.
Experts at the Williams Institute have written dozens of public policy studies and law review articles, filed amicus briefs in key court cases, provided expert testimony at legislative hearings and been widely cited in the national media.
Sears, a West Hollywood resident, is also an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Law, where he teaches courses on sexual orientation laws, disability law and U.S. legal and judicial systems.
He has published a number of research studies and articles, primarily on discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace and HIV discrimination in health care. He has testified before Congress and a number of state legislatures, written amicus briefs in key court cases and helped to draft state and federal legislation.
Rabbi Denise Eger, rabbi: A fixture of LA’s rabbinic community for more than two decades, Eger has led many clergy members in campaigns in support of same-sex marriage.
Ordained in 1988, Eger first served as rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, the world’s first gay and lesbian synagogue recognized by Reform Judaism. In 1992, she founded Congregation Kol Ami, a synagogue that serves both gay and non-gay Jews in West Hollywood.
As the issue of Prop 8 heated up, Eger denounced the ballot measure at news conferences, called on fellow rabbis to join the cause and performed dozens of weddings for gay and lesbian couples. She even officiated at the first legal wedding in Los Angeles County between two women, activist Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, on June 16, 2008.
Following the passage of Prop 8 Eger worked with LAPD and Sheriff’s Department to organize and keep the peace with protest marchers in the streets of Los Angeles.
She chaired a spirituality advisory committee for AIDS Project Los Angeles and co-chaired the Gay and Lesbian Rabbinic Network. She also was founding president of the Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Interfaith Clergy Association and campaigned against Proposition 22, the successful 2000 voter initiative that defined marriage as being only between a man and a woman.
In 2008, Christopher Street West, the non-profit group that stages the annual LA Pride Festival, awarded her the Morris Kight Lifetime Achievement Award.
What am I, chopped liver? 😉