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As Ellen Goes, So
Goes the Nation

As Ellen Goes, So
Goes the Nation


When Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi got married in California in August, there were no protests, no career fallout, and no media backlash, just congratulations from all.

It was an archetypal People celebrity wedding featuring two of the beautiful people, one in pants and the other in a gown, and a dreamy setting with flowers, champagne, candlelight, the whole romantic nine yards. No expense spared, no fabulous purveyor left unmentioned. (Mark's Garden! Zac Posen! Neil Lane!) The only thing missing: a groom.

But People hardly noticed.

And that's what was most amazing about the August 16 marriage of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi: People and other mainstream celebrity news sources didn't treat the event much differently than they would, say, the arrival of Brangelina's next children. did headline the word "marry" in scare quotes, but the blogosphere outcry forced the site to make a quick edit. Other than that there seemed to be no backlash from the mainstream media or public.

What was once California dreaming has turned into a Golden State reality, and leading the way down the aisle -- as she has, so to speak, for the past decade of gay progress -- is DeGeneres.

She wasn't the first celesbian (k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, and Chastity Bono were public about their sexual orientation before she was), but Ellen's coming-out was certainly the most heralded. Who can forget the cover of Time magazine in 1997 with the headline "Yep, I'm gay"? The very acknowledgment of that fact was news and even warranted a full hour on Oprah. DeGeneres then turned her eponymous TV show character into a lesbian, coming out by sharing a kiss with guest star Laura Dern. And offscreen she began unabashedly parading her relationship with actor Anne Heche up and down red carpets.

The result: The religious right was in an uproar; people picketed ABC, which distributed Ellen; and in '98 the network canceled the show. DeGeneres couldn't find work, and even Dern would later go on to say that she couldn't get another job for at least a year after her guest spot. Ellen and Ellen were dead in the water.

It was another two years before Vermont legalized civil unions, and four more before Massachusetts instituted marriage equality. By then DeGeneres had embarked on the next phase of her career, as a daytime talk-show host, and was welcomed into the homes of millions of Americans as an openly gay woman.

By the time California made it legal for her to marry De Rossi, her partner of four years, DeGeneres had become one of those people who transcends common notions about gender or sexuality, much as a Bill Cosby or Tiger Woods seems to rise above common racial prejudices. She's so damn friendly, cute, funny -- dare we say normal? -- that the everyday Americans have seamlessly incorporated -- and accepted -- her sexual orientation as a part of who she is. No questions asked. DeGeneres's studio audience gave her a standing ovation when she announced her engagement, and a Harris poll this year found that DeGeneres is currently the country's "favorite television star."

What a difference a decade has made -- both for DeGeneres and for mainstream Americans' attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. In fact, you can almost gauge the public's feelings about LGBT people through its treatment of Ellen. When just coming out was the bravest thing a person could do, DeGeneres became the face of gay people's struggle to be open. Now she's become the face of the struggle for equality, and her marriage represents just how far we've come.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Michele Kort