President Barack Obama's endorsement of gay marriage Wednesday didn't just galvanize supporters in Hollywood, it convinced some entertainment industry progressives to abandon their criticism and get involved in his campaign.
Take Dustin Lance Black. The Oscar-winning "Milk" screenwriter was so angered by Obama’s lack of movement on marriage equality that he publicly suggested he might sit out this presidential race. On Thursday, he told TheWrap he is considering being a co-host for a Los Angeles fundraiser on June 6 geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
“I am moving from a position of little enthusiasm to a position of strong support, and that means you will see me contributing financially and repeating my efforts of 2008 by knocking on doors in states where he wants me to knock on doors,” he said.
Black (pictured left) and other gay activists' demands were answered this week after Obama voiced his support for same-sex marriage in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts.
“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told Roberts.
In Tinseltown, the response was nearly euphoric. From Norman Lear to Alec Baldwin, Hollywood praised Obama's statement on gay marriage. "Glee" co-creator Ryan Murphy went a step further, announcing that he will host a dinner for the president that will cost between $25,000 to $40,000 to attend.
Of course, the entertainment business has been one of the president's biggest sources of contributions throughout his hard-fought re-election battle. However, even if Obama's new position doesn't translate into bigger campaign donations, the enthusiasm for his campaign in the industry should intensify, gay rights activists tell TheWrap.
"For LGBT people across the country there has always been a bit of uncomfortableness, because no matter how much we support the president, we have to say that we don't agree with him on everything," Chad Griffin, a Los Angeles-based political strategist and a member of Obama's national finance committee, told TheWrap. "[Gay marriage] being the example. Now the one thing that we had strong disagreements on, both publicly and privately with the president, has been taken off the table."
Adding to the festive atmosphere in the entertainment capital, the announcement neatly coincides with a star-studded fundraiser Thursday at the Los Angeles home of George Clooney, who has been an outspoken supporter of gay rights.
“I think this is going to turn it into a celebration of sorts,” Howard Bragman, a veteran publicist and the vice chairman of Reputation.com, told TheWrap. “There was no way this fundraiser wasn’t going to be exciting, I mean you’ve got the biggest stars in the world there, but this is going to take it to a whole different level.”
The event is expected to generate up to $15 million for the Obama campaign and will draw 150 people, according to an individual close to the fundraiser. Though nothing has been formalized and the event sold out weeks before the ABC News interview aired, the president's new position on gay marriage is expected to "come up in a positive way," the individual said.
Beyond the Clooney event, Bragman said he has already heard from friends in the gay community and entertainment industry who wrote checks to the campaign following the president’s announcement.
Kelly Bush, CEO of ID-PR and an active member of the Obama campaign’s Hollywood outreach, said the historic nature of the president’s statements was not lost on the entertainment community. Obama's statements make him the first sitting U.S. president to endorse marriage equality.
“For the president to acknowledge that a minority deserves the same rights, putting us on equal footing with every other family in America, is a fantastic step forward that’s long overdue,” Bush said.
Though Black may be a high-profile conversion, other Hollywood insiders say it is uncertain that the president’s shift in positions will substantially impact his fundraising.
The Obama campaign has already collected more than $2 million in contributions from the movie, television and music industry, according to OpenSecrets.org — more than five times the amount raised by Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Likewise, the president has received over $40,000 from gay rights groups, roughly $10,000 more than he had at a similar point in the last election cycle.
“If you’re in Hollywood and you supported Obama before and this is a personal issue for you, then him speaking out yesterday will motivate you to get him reelected,” said a prominent gay executive in Hollywood, who declined to be named. “If it isn’t a personal issue, then I don’t know if it will move the needle.”
There is also the possibility that Obama did not go far enough to appease gay marriage supporters. Though he endorsed marriage equality in his interview with ABC News, he emphasized that it is an issue that should be left up to the states.
In a news conference for "America's Got Talent" on Thursday, judge Howard Stern took the president to task for not backing up his words with substantive actions.
"I wish the president actually had gone further. I wish he had said he was going to back some legislation on the national level," he said.
Even those who were moved by the president’s conversion admit that it is not clear his newfound support of same-sex unions will help him politically. Many analysts expect that Obama’s reelection chances hinge on carrying more conservative leaning swing states.
Though gay rights supporters point to a recent Gallup poll that shows that 50 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, it is not clear that the issue will play as well in Jacksonville, Fla., as it does in Beverly Hills. After all, one critical state for Obama’s re-election chances, North Carolina, voted decisively to ban same-sex marriage this week.
“Our responsibility is to give him the support he needs and to do the hard work to make sure this is a winning issue even in swing states,” Black said. “We might have a harder time in North Carolina, but we can make this a winning issue in Virginia. We know how to win, we know how to change minds.”
Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.