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Prop. 8: West Hollywood leader fought for gay rights in 1980s

March 27, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts
  • West Hollywood City Councilman John J. Duran speaks Tuesday about the U.S. Supreme Court and Proposition 8.
West Hollywood City Councilman John J. Duran speaks Tuesday about the U.S.… (Al Seib )

As the U.S Supreme Court hears two days of arguments on gay marriage, West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, who is gay and an attorney who fought for gay rights in the 1980s, says the subject has “been an ever-evolving issue."

"The city of West Hollywood supported marriage equality when we incorporated in 1984, but back then it was just a dream,” Duran said Tuesday after the Supreme Court heard arguments over California's Proposition 8.

The Supreme Court will decide whether Proposition 8—which amended the state Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman—will stand as law in California.

Duran said that in the 1980s, gay rights activists did not have public opinion on their side.

“The reality is, people are evolving,” he said.

He says the gay and lesbian community in WeHo is watching it, tweeting about it, posting on Facebook about it. “We’re aware as a people that our lives are being scrutinized by the nation right now.”

Duran listened to the Supreme Court questioning Tuesday and said he was “somewhat optimistic and fearful.”

“It’s all going to come down to Justice [Anthony] Kennedy, and we all know it’s down to Kennedy,” he said, referring to the justice who is considered the swing vote on the matter. 

“The question is, is Justice Kennedy going to find the courage to do what’s right … knowing that half the people in this country disagree with it?” Duran said.

Although many liken the gay marriage debate to that of abortion decades before, Duran said he thinks the comparison does not work. He said gay marriage is about extending rights while abortion opponents believe they are saving lives.

“Where we are today, before the U.S. Supreme Court, is something my community has paid for not only with sweat and tears but with blood, whether it’s been as victims of violent crimes or victims of a plague," he said.

"AIDS was the scarlet letter that forced people out of their closets of comfort," he continued. "Once we were out there, we had no choice but to demand equal rights and to acknowledge our relationships.”

He says this is a “bittersweet moment” and that the price paid to be where the community is now “was very, very high.”

“I wish a lot of the people we lost along the way were here to witness it with me,” he said.

“It’s very exciting knowing so many people know gay and lesbian people because the closets have been shattered," he said. "The gay and lesbian community is not only out on television and in movies, we’re out in everybody’s families now, at Thanksgiving tables and family reunions. We’re there.

Because we’re there, it forces people to have to deal with these issues,” he continued. "“We know that what’s happening in the Supreme Court today is going to impact our lives from this moment forward.”


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