April 07 2010 5:00 AM ET
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Chances are you've never heard of Chad Griffin, but this Arkansas native
who now lives in Los Angeles has spent the past year of his life trying
to make a critical change in the way you’re able to live yours. This
time, it’s not an environmental cause he’s championing. It’s Perry v.
Schwarzenegger, the federal challenge to California’s Proposition
8, the ballot initiative that repealed same-sex marriage rights. (The
case had yet to be decided at the district level as of press time and is
more than a year away from what is expected to be an ultimate ruling by
the U.S. Supreme Court.)
In Perry, Griffin masterminded
the legal team—a ripped-from-the-headlines combination of Ted Olson, a
former solicitor general under George W. Bush, and David Boies, Olson’s
legal adversary in Bush v. Gore. He launched the American
Foundation for Equal Rights to help foot the bills that are accompanying
the legal challenge. The organization didn’t exist a year ago. Milk
screenwriter and foundation board member Dustin Lance Black only hinted
at an early iteration of the group in this magazine’s previous “Forty
Under 40” issue, and it remains a small operation, with one full-time
staff member and a board that includes Kristina Schake, Griffin’s
business partner in the communications and consulting firm
Griffin|Schake, and director Rob Reiner, who tapped Griffin in the Las
Virgenes campaign and has worked with him on early-education causes.
Aesthetically, the foundation’s website is nearly indistinguishable
from, say, the Tea Party movement’s site: no rainbow hues, no equality
symbols, just American flags—something Griffin was adamant about.
“That’s my flag too. That’s the LGBT community’s flag as much as any
other group,” he says. “We aren’t some different class of people that
wants some unique right.”
Mainstreaming the marriage cause,
whether it’s through the use of patriotic symbols or by tapping an
erstwhile conservative attorney with a formidable Supreme Court record,
is what makes Griffin’s work so effective, says Paul Begala, a CNN
political commentator and former Clinton aide who met Griffin in the
West Wing and has since worked with him on political campaigns. “With
Ted Olson, I carry real grudges. But Chad has this capacity to set aside
that and only focus on what is absolutely central to winning,” Begala
says. “He has brains but also roots. He grew up with people who are
concerned about the issues. He’s not dismissive of their views, and he’s
willing to engage. Many people who are true believers can’t bear the
thought of engaging with their enemy.”
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