Whenever anyone asks De Rossi about marriage equality—and, grateful for whatever “little tiny platform” she’s given, she hopes they will—she reveals herself to be an impeccably prepared spokeswoman, a perfectly poised first lady of advocacy. Further proof will come in March when the Human Rights Campaign will acknowledge De Rossi with its Visibility Award at a ceremony in Los Angeles.

“Ever since Ellen and I got together, I feel like I’ve been given an opportunity to actually—God, this sounds corny…” She rolls her eyes at herself, fidgets, and then forges ahead. “Well, I feel like my life can actually kind of stand for something. And I don’t mean that in a self-aggrandizing way, like, ‘Look at me, I can make a difference.’ But I feel like, maybe I get why I’m here.”

No one, not publicists or producers or even gay organizations, is telling her what to say these days. She doesn’t care if every question during a junket for her show is about her personal life. Where she once would have demurred, arguing for privacy, “what I meant was I should stay in the closet because I’m greedy and selfish,” she says. “Maybe by sharing my life, I can make people more aware of how important gay marriage is.” Is that more important to her than acting? “Of course,” she answers immediately. “Actors come and go. Characters come and go. TV shows come and go. While acting is entertaining, for me personally, it’s a little empty.” Her Better Off Ted executive producer, Victor Fresco, “is incredibly supportive” and knows she “comes with some other stuff,” as she puts it. “My career is only a part of my life, and it’s certainly not what I think I was born to do.”

It seems entirely possible that what De Rossi was born to do is, well, be married and talk about it. A year and a half after their 2008 wedding, she and DeGeneres are still that almost obnoxiously adorable couple. If anything, getting married has only made them more so. “I thought I’d feel more blasé about it, more comfortable. But it’s the complete opposite—I’ve become a lot less selfish. I’m constantly thinking about her needs and our needs as a team. It’s a lovely, symbiotic partnership. Who knew marriage could be like that? I’d only heard bad things about it.”

At a time when gay people’s right to marry is bandied about on ballots, in courtrooms, and on Sunday morning talk shows, De Rossi has an eagle-eyed precision for making a simple, persuasive point. When we meet, the Proposition 8 trial has just begun in San Francisco, and lawyers are cross-examining expert witnesses. “Hmm, let’s see,” she says. “Look at the country. Do we all have equal rights? No. Case closed.”

“I think it’s up to us to save marriage,” she says. “Up to gay people across the country, seeing as though we’re fighting for it so vehemently.” De Rossi has an impressive ability to marry the personal and political: “This whole thing has been a wave of excitement and hope, and then it gently falls back into despair. And then it picks us up again. Unfortunately, we’re the ones who have to suffer this—this humiliation, really. There’s kind of a dignity that’s been stripped from us. Gay people are the ones who have to suffer through it—but without it, it won’t change.”

But a marriage between two entertainers, especially when one is arguably among the most powerful players in Hollywood, is an uphill battle, or so says conventional Tinseltown wisdom. They give themselves an edge by avoiding as much of the media coverage as possible. De Rossi is surprised, for example, when I tell her their on-camera congratulatory kiss after DeGeneres won an Emmy in 2008 was on the front page of many newspapers.

Tags: People