At a swanky Wednesday night fund-raiser for marriage equality in Beverly Hills, Elton John had a sobering admission for the crowd before he performed “Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes,” the Bernie Taupin–penned song about a dancer who contracted HIV during the early days of the crisis.
“At that time, I was AWOL. And the American government was AWOL,” John told an audience of about 500 people at the palatial Benedict Canyon estate of billionaire and Democratic fund-raiser Ron Burkle. “And they did nothing for gay people who had the disease. And it was an absolute disgrace. And I was a disgrace as well.”
Perhaps his recent fatherhood with partner David Furnish has put John, 63, in a reflective mood about lives lost and families yet to be recognized by society. Though he said in 2008, shortly after Proposition 8 passed, that civil partnerships were an adequate compromise for gay and lesbian couples, John seems to be now singing a different tune.
“I mean, here I am sitting with a wedding ring on my finger. It’s a civil partnership, but we’re getting closer to winning marriage in England as well,” John said before playing a stirring rendition of “Border Song,” followed by such classics as “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer.”
“And I’m here with my partner ... and on Christmas Day we had a young son,” added John, wearing a shawl-collared tuxedo jacket and oval sunglasses. “It seems so ridiculous that I could, with my partner, have a son, and yet I couldn’t marry my partner.”
John’s 90-minute performance was the centerpiece of a minimum $1,000-a-person benefit for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which raised more than $3 million, according to the foundation. The organization was founded in 2009 to challenge Prop. 8 in federal court — a suit that recently took a detour when the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit asked the California supreme court whether anti–gay marriage groups have standing under state law to appeal U.S. district judge Vaughn Walker’s August decision.
“The California law is quite clear there’s not standing,” David Boies said on the red carpet for the event, whose attendees included Adam Lambert, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, recent Golden Globe winner Jane Lynch, and former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, who came out as gay last year. “It’s important that the court answer that question as promptly as possible, because the longer this is delayed, the longer people are deprived of their right to marry.”
If the state supreme court rules that Prop. 8 proponents cannot appeal the case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Boies indicated that he’s in the national marriage equality fight for the long haul. “If there’s no standing, there will have to be additional cases,” he said. “And we’re already looking for the right places to bring cases.”
Senator Gillibrand, who said she was in Los Angeles for “a few events,” was hopeful about marriage equality prospects in her own state, one of several on the East Coast where state legislatures seem poised to deliver marriage rights for same-sex couples after a string of setbacks.
“I’m very optimistic,” Gillibrand said. “We have a governor who supports marriage equality. It’s something that the people want. And I think if we work very hard and we continue to push our advocacy, we will be successful.”
Adam Lambert, towering over everyone on the red carpet (except for the bronze trenchcoat–clad Lynch), said he hoped the Perry case would still eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court. “People talk about protecting the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. Honestly, how about we protect the sanctity of our Constitution?”