Penn expresses Hollywood's Prop 8 regrets

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HONOLULU, Hawaii — On the same day that actor Sean Penn told an Oscar TV audience that supporters of bans on "gay marriage" someday will be ashamed of their position, thousands of pro-family citizens in Hawaii were marching in opposition to a proposed same-sex civil unions bill.

It was a stark contrast in worldviews, as Hollywood continues to express frustration at the passage of Proposition 8 in its home state.

Penn won an Oscar Feb. 22 for best actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in the movie "Milk" (rated R), which tells the story of the nation's first openly homosexual person elected to public office. A San Francisco city supervisor, Milk was assassinated in 1978 by another supervisor.

Penn received a standing ovation as he walked to the stage and applause throughout a brief speech.

"I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support," Penn said to applause. "We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

Prop 8 — which overturned a California Supreme Court decision that had legalized "gay marriage" — passed 52-48 percent, but Hollywood tried desperately to defeat it. For instance, George Lucas and Lucasfilm gave a total of $100,000 to Prop 8 opponents, as did "Grey's Anatomy" actor T.R. Knight. Steven Spielberg donated $50,500. In the final month of the campaign, one particular Hollywood fundraiser for Prop 8 opponents raised $4 million.

But so far, Hollywood is outside the mainstream on the issue. California is one of 30 states to have adopted constitutional amendments aimed at defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The 30 state votes have averaged a 68-32 percent margin.

Traditional values were on display in Hawaii Feb. 22, as thousands of citizens rallied at the state capitol in Honolulu to urge legislators to oppose a bill that would legalize civil unions, which grant same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage minus the name. The bill passed the state House and is being considered in the Senate. Opponents of the bill (H.B. 444) were urged to wear red to the rally.

"When I saw the sea of red, I was like, 'It's amazing how many people really believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,'" protester Khale Miller told KITV television.

Said protester Linda Sofa, "Never have I seen such a huge turnout. We had 10 buses that left our church this morning."

If the bill is to be defeated, more pressure may be needed — not only on senators but on Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who has yet to take a public position on it.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, where a deadlocked 3-3 vote is expected. That normally would kill a bill, but State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat, told the Honolulu Advertiser she is considering pulling the bill from committee for a floor vote. She and Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, a Democrat, say the bill has majority support.

"Pulling something from committee is an extraordinary situation," Hooser told the newspaper. "However, we have the ability to do that in the rules for extraordinary situations."

Hawaii is one of the 30 states that have passed a constitutional marriage amendment, although Hawaii's is unique. The amendment, passed by a margin of 71-29 percent in the 1990s, does not define marriage but simply gives the legislature the authority to do so. After the amendment was adopted, the legislature did pass a law prohibiting "gay marriage." Most marriage amendments define marriage within the constitution.

Sen. Robert Bunda, a Democrat who opposes the civil unions bill, told the Star Bulletin newspaper that supporters "want civil union and ultimately gay marriage."

Hawaii would become the sixth state to grant same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage, without the name. California, Oregon, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont have passed such laws. Connecticut and Massachusetts remain the only states to recognize "gay marriage."

New Mexico's legislature also is considering a bill that would grant homosexual couples the legal benefits of marriage. The state Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 Feb. 16 to send the bill to the full Senate without a recommendation. Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, supports the bill; Democrats control both chambers. The unions would be called domestic partnerships.