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Prop. 8 repercussions hit Sacramento theater

November 11, 2008 |  3:09 pm

The blowback from last Tuesday's passage of Prop. 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage in California, has hit the California Musical Theatre, a major nonprofit stage company in Sacramento, following the revelation via the Web that its artistic director gave $1,000 to back the state constitutional amendment.

Among those weighing in with dismay over Scott Eckern's donation are Tony winners Jeff Whitty, who wrote the book for "Avenue Q," and Marc Shaiman, composer and co-lyricist of "Hairspray." Shaiman said Tuesday that he phoned Eckern on Friday to protest, then e-mailed more than 1,000 contacts to alert them about the donation.Marc Shaiman, composer of Hairspray

"Of course it's his right to donate the money," said Shaiman, who was disappointed that Eckern, a California Musical Theatre employee since 1984 and its artistic director since 2003, had benefited from last season's touring production of "Hairspray," then piped money to a cause the L.A.-based Shaiman deplores. In their conversation, Shaiman said, "he basically gave me that thing we're just sick of hearing -- 'these are my religious beliefs, but it's nothing personal' " against gay people. "I don't want to hear that anymore. I just told him I'm disgusted at that use of money that came in some way from a show I created." (Update: The “Hairspray” production at California Musical Theatre last August was not a touring production, but one mounted by CMT itself. A touring version of “Hairspray” was seen at the theater in 2004.)

Whitty, whose "Avenue Q" is scheduled to play the Sacramento theater in March, was among those alerted by Shaiman's e-mail. On Monday,  he wrote in his whitless.com blog that "like Marc, I'll work to prevent CMT from producing any of my future shows with Mr. Eckern at the helm. To me, he's one of those hypocrites who profits from the contributions of gays ... but thinks of us as ultimately damned."

Jeff Whitty winning a Tony award for Avenue Q But today, despite wanting to "make an example of somebody," Whitty blogged that he reversed his stance on a boycott, writing that Eckern had given him a "convincing and sincere apology" and didn't deserve to be targeted for more censure. Whitty said he would "look forward to working with the California Musical Theatre in the future."

Shaiman said he would keep pushing for public acknowledgment and redress that would not damage the theater for one individual's political views but would make it clear that anti-gay views won't be accepted in the theater community. A benefit event at California Musical Theatre might be appropriate, he said, allowing backers of gay marriage an artistic platform while raising money to help mount a legal appeal to overturn Prop. 8.

In any case, Shaiman said, the response should be measured. When told that Eckern's donation had been posted on a website called antigayblacklist.com that calls for a boycott against businesses and professionals who backed Prop. 8 -- including some public school teachers -- the composer, who also writes film music, questioned using the word "blacklist," the term for the exclusion of artists in 1950s Hollywood for having suspected Communist leanings. "We have to watch ourselves and not become what we're fighting against," he said.   

Eckern released a statement today apologizing "for any harm or injury" caused by his donation. He said he would donate $1,000 -- commensurate to what he gave Prop. 8 backers -- to the Human Rights Campaign, a group that supports equal rights for gays and lesbians. Update: Eckern’s full statement is here.

After talking with many friends and colleagues, he said, "I have a better idea ... how deeply felt these issues are, and I am deeply saddened that my acting upon my religious convictions has been devastating to those I love and admire." He noted that his sister, a lesbian, is in a domestic partnership relationship.

Richard Lewis, the executive producer whose family founded California Musical Theatre decades ago, said Eckern's views were his own, not the theater's, and affirmed "appreciation ... for the [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community who have played a crucial role in our success." A torrent of e-mails and calls protesting Eckern's donation began on Friday and has continued, said Lewis, who likened the  blowup to when Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis questioned on national television whether black ballplayers had the right stuff to be successful baseball managers.

"We're looking at the magnitude of the situation and need to discuss whether we take any action.... We don't want to rush into things and do something foolish," Lewis added. "We just put the initial statement out there: 'Don't punish the theater for what Scott chose to do.' "

The theater, which presents touring Broadway shows and produces its own summer musical festival of seven shows, hiring scores of actors and designers who commonly work in New York, has no policy against employees being politically active or making political contributions, Lewis said. He dismissed the notion that Eckern could be fired for backing Prop. 8 or that it would be allowable under California employment law.

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Marc Shaiman, top; Jeff Whitty, with Tony Award

Photo credits: Shaiman, Al Seib / Los Angeles Times; Whitty, Jeff Christensen / Reuters

Comments () | Archives (152)

The tragedy here is that because discrimination is so painful and damaging, people who have been discriminated against lash out in rage against everyone they feel is associated with their pain. This is a profoundly human reaction, and very understandable. Sadly, it is not a reaction that promotes mutual understanding of disparate world views.

I live in California. I knocked on doors all over Nevada and Colorado for Barack Obama, because I am profoundly moved by his determination to understand everyone's point of view even when he does not agree. He has lived the full consequences of this determination. As a boy, he was terribly hurt by his white grandmother's fear of black men. I suspect that his pain over his grandmother's racism drove him to prove that black men are good people--I see him as someone who took his pain and used it to create a positive force for change in the world, not through ugly repudiation, but by building bridges. I want to live in a country where even when we are hurt, we can look the people in the eye who have hurt us and keep working toward understanding our common humanity.

Eckern was an easy target for the gay community's pain and rage. He was blackballed and forced to resign, not by CMT, but by a community movement. I believe that he was a dedicated artist who treated people equally, but held religious beliefs about the definition of marriage that are repellent to many of us, including me. I found myself sobbing that he was blackballed and punished professionally for his personal beliefs. This is not progress, America.

Rebekah Pickard

Society has a responsibility to determine what is in its own best interest. Occasionally this means that some people are prevented from doing things that they would like to do. Sometimes we even have to say that certain groups of society cannot do certain things.

There are many people who are born blind. It is something that they had no control over, nor can they do anything to change it. As unfortunate as that may be, society has every right to prevent them from driving cars. That may seem unfair. There may even be some who wish they could drive. What should we do about the situation? We do our best as a society to provide accomodations for them so that they can live their lives as best as they can. Couldn't we argue that their "rights" are being taken away? That any "accomodation" is not equal to what everyone else has?

You'll probably argue that the comparison is silly because it is so obviously dangerous that it makes sense for society to prevent it. Those in favor of traditional marriage are trying to make the same argument in the case of same-sex marriage.


You make a pretty bold statement. Are you absolutely sure about it?

One thing that I learned in my law class was that you can sue anyone you want to for anything you would like to. Whether the suit holds up in court is up to the judge and/or jury. In most cases the suit would be immediately dismissed by summary judgement. But is that a guarantee?

A photography can be (and has successfully been) sued for refusing to take pictures at a same-sex ceremony.

Maybe someone with a little more background in law could weigh in on the issue.

LDS elders didn't care who they hurt or angered as they SPEWED their HATE and LIES about gay's and lesbian's families in another State.

OK we are ANGRY, you got what you wanted,, now SHUT UP and deal with it.

Is it too much to ask you whiney Mormon victim DIVAS...too MAN UP, and OWN what you did to OTHERS?

Myles: of course they "can" sue - meaning file an action. It will be thrown out on its ear, and hopefully the judge will order all costs to be paid by anyone filing such a suit - If I were the judge and there was law on my side I would order damages to be paid to the church for violation of religious freedom by anyone suing a church to give them a religious marriage that the church refuses to give.
And I am a gay man - no church can be required by any US government body to perform any marriage it does not want to perform. I would find it abhorrent to require a church to do anything like that,
The state, on the other hand, must/should grant a legal contract of marriage between any two consenting adults, because to not do so amounts to discrimination based on sex, whiich is / should be unconstitutional.

Myles - one more thing - I am a lawyer admitted to practice in 3 states. Unfortunately people file frivolous lawsuits all the time - let's eliminate frivolous suits from the discussion since they are not relevant.
As for the photographer - had that person entered into a contract to photograph an event that they then reneged on? wondering what the facts are in that case.
Legally, it seems to me that a photographer can decide not to accept any contract he/she does not want. But if he/she does enter into a contract to photograph an event, he/she cannot refuse to fulfill that contract because he/she does not personally approve of the event - provided of course that the photographer is not being asked to engage in any illegal activity.
The photographer had every right not to accept the job in the first place. Once a contract is entered into, it must be fulfilled or damages will obtain, as you know.

Rebekah - Eckerd was not punished for his beliefs! Please stop that inaccurate assertion! - He took action to deny other people the right to act according to other beliefs! Donating was his right! and some people objected, which was their right!
He had every right to say he was a bigot, and to donate, etc. I will defend his right to do so. And anyone who wants to boycott, etc, also has the right to do so- Freedom of speech! both sides exercised it - Freedom of speech does not mean that other people cannot respond with their own free speech. The fundamental meaning of freedom of speech means that no one can stop you from saying what you want to say. It does NOT mean that others cannot respond as they wiish (lawfully) to that speech, with words, boycotts, protests, whatever lawful actions they choose. And you can then respond to those words/boycotts etc as you wish, if you wish.... and so on.. as you have here . Please continue to exercise that right, as did the people who raised their voices about his actions,

Rebekah - one more thing. I will accept your input as honest and un-hypocritical when you forcefully defend my right to same-sex marriage in spite of its abhorrence to you on a personal level - you have your right to abhorrence, and the right to say so, and I have my right to same-sex marriage, and the right to say so.
that is equality

I regret that Scott Ekern resigned, and I am glad that he issued such a heart-felt apology for his insensitivity. But for all of those claiming that he was somehow treated unfairly, I wonder if you expressed the same outrage when the priest who spoke out against Proposition 8 was fired? Gay people are fired all the time. Even in states that have anti-discrimination laws (ony about 20), religious groups and "faith-based" organizations routinely fire gay people since they are not covered by civil rights laws. Do you think the Mormon Church wouldn't fire a homosexual without a second thought? Or the Roman Catholic Church? Just recently, they fired a choir director because he married his partner in Massachusetts. Some people in the congregation was upset, but the Church did not relent.

Mr. lawyer, I don't think we can eliminate frivolous lawsuits from the discussion because they are a real threat.

The photographer in New Mexico had not entered into a contract. She was contacted by email to do the photography for the commitment ceremony, and she declined saying that she only photographed traditional marriage ceremonies. The New Mexico Human Rights Commission ruled that she had discriminated based on sexual orientation and she was ordered to pay $6,600 in legal fees. (see article at polipundit.com/index.php?p=19727).

If we are relying on the same judges who ruled in May that same-sex couples have a right to marry, then I think it is impossible to say how they would rule on other issues of free speech or religion. Obviously a church could not be forced to do anything, but there could be government sanctions brought against the church, loss of tax-exempt status, etc.

I promise that I will stand up and defend the traditional definition of marriage to the very end. But, you should take heart, though. According to my religious beliefs, I think that your side will eventually win. And that's not because you will finally convince people to see what is right. Quite the opposite.

Myles, your example of the photographer in New Mexico is good: no one has the right to disobey the law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment and accommodations. You cannot do business in the state of California and discriminate against homosexuals. Period. Passing Proposition 8 has not changed this. I suppose you want to repeal the anti-discrimination laws as well. Now, we see your agenda. But guess what, if you are in business and offer services to the general public and refuse to provide them to a particular group (like homosexuals), you will find yourself on the losing end of a lawsuit.

How does it feel to be excluded?
Gays have been oppressed since ancient times and we're sick of it. Up until a couple of years ago, we basically had no rights at all.
Now we have some and it's just killing you.
STOP HIDING BEHIND YOUR RELIGIONS! I believe in God too, but MY god is all about love, not hate. If you are prejudiced, just come out and admit it. Actually, this might surprise some of you, but we don't need your tolerance. You can just keep that for yourselves if that is all you can spare, because speaking for most gays, we're not interested in it.
What is interesting is how sanctimonious straight people become when it comes to gay issues.

This is the first "chat" that I have participated in because I'm so pissed off/disapointed at the sheer audacity of the American electorate.
Let me 1st state I am a straight white male, your average white, OK middle aged (40), guy.
I am a Canadian living in Yukon (way up north).
I am also a marriage commisioner. What this means is that the Yukon government has given me the authority to marry people.
I am agast that a slim majority of people could not only take away someone's rights but to change the state constitution. One of the hallmarks of a free and just society is that the majority/mob cannot take away the civil rights of, for lack of a better term, minority group!
As I said I am a marriage commisioner and 2/3 of the ceremonies I have performed have been same sex couples wishing to make a legally binding committment to each other.
I don't get what all the fuss is about by the right wing elements of your country. Here in Canada same sex marriage has been legal for several years with narry a wimper from the the right wing idiots!
How ironic, the bipolar electorate of California helped elect the first African American to the highest office in the land and on the same ballot chose to take a hard right turn by banning same sex marriage! If it wasn't so sad, I would be laughing my ass of again at the ignorance(NOT STUPIDITY)of my neighbors to the south and west.


I am a design consultant by profession. I offer my design services to the public. Are you saying that I cannot decline to take a job? That anyone who comes to me asking for me to work on something, I must do it? If someone came to me asking me to design an "adult" toy, I would refuse, and I believe that would be my right. If someone came to me and asked me to design a slot machine, I would refuse (I am morally opposed to gambling). How is the case of the photographer any different?

At the same time, there are certainly basic services that must be provided regardless of anything: emergency response, hospital care, etc. But I think there is a difference there.

Boycotting in Sacramento. Sending anonymous envelopes filled with white powder to Salt Lake City. Picketing in front of a restaurant in Oregon. Oh, so brave. Please, please, PLEASE come to South Carolina and try something.

Everyone has been judged at some point for something. It starts on the playground with you have big ears "Dumbo". Everyone feels at some point that they are too tall/short/fat/skinny, have bad skin or their hair is too curly/strait. Mean is mean name calling and bulling is just that name calling and bulling. I have been thinking, my mother voted for maraige one man one woman in AZ. My mother does not hate anyone! She has a viewpoint I don't agree with should I stop letting her in my house because she has religious beliefs. Her ohter daughter is bisexual. She loves both of us. She believes that sex between any unmarried couple (man/woman) is a sin. I was a sinner in her eyes and acording to her bible. She also believes in (hate the sin love the sinner like Christ did with the tax collector) Not all Christians do this but the quiet one's do. They are some great people. Like in the Gay community the Christian community has a few radical (loud, pushy, bitter, judjemental, ugly..) people every group has them we tend to forget that the majority of all people from any group are good and kind. This man who worked for the theatre sounds a lot like my mother. Here is a reminder if you bring a belief to the table and you truly want change and acceptance along the way it is important to bring kindness and education to the table in a way that it does not become a bitter war because we all know there is no winner in a war only the group with less casualties. I had several friends get "married" in California it was a happy day for them. I believe that day will come agian faster if people just bring open dialog to the table. Most of the Christians (moderate) that I know would support a legal union by deffinition providing a gay couple with all the rights of maraige if it was called a legal union and not maraige or partnership laws allowing an individuale to designate someone to all rights needed in a partnership as well as medical say and visitation. Change will come, now is not the time to alienate and preach hate and intollerance from any side. Teach acceptance and compassion by example and you will always come out smelling like a rose in the end. Let the finatice preach hate they just look foolish don't be like them. When someone from your way of thinking gets out of line tell them. Why can't we just get allong with people who are nice and ignore mean people. Your lifestyle, beliefs don't give you al lable in my eyes I judge everyone by the nice factor. So I guess I am a biggott agains all mean people. We all have a right to an opinion I guess I stated mine.

Myles, if you are offering services to the general public, you cannot refuse a job on the basis of the potential customer's race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and other characteristics covered under the Unrhuh civil rights law. You could refuse on the basis that you don't design adult toys or slot machines or many other reasons, unless these were just ruses to get around the law. (For example, if you had designed slot machines for Catholics, but refused to design them for Baptists and a Baptist sued you for discriminating against them on the basis of religion, that might indicate that you are lying about why you refused the job.) Some professions, such as physicians and pharmacists, have a certain amount of flexibility in terms of refusing to do procedures (such as abortion, for instance), but they have to be consistent. For example, in a recent case, the Supreme Court of California ruled that if a physician refuses to perform in vitro fertilization, they have to do so for all patients, not just lesbians (as in the case under review) or those who are unmarried, etc. And if they do refuse to perform a procedure, they are obligated to refer them to someone who will, especially if it is a procedure that is time-sensitive.


I think you summed up the distinction pretty well. The question is: on which side does the situation with the photographer fall? It would seem to me that if a homosexual individual came to the photographer asking for her to take some portrait pictures, she could not refuse simply because she new the person was homosexual. However, I believe that taking pictures of a commitment ceremony is a little bit different. It is actually creating something (similar to my design example) that is objectionable to the photographer.

I will admit that this is a gray area in my mind. I went through half a dozen "test" scenarios in my mind to try to determine where I thought the line could be drawn. What about the restaurant where they want to have a luncheon on the day of the ceremony? (should not refuse) What about the dance hall for a reception? (also should not refuse) What about renting a church to have the ceremony performed in, even if it is not sanctioned or performed by a member of the church's clergy? That's a tougher one.

Discrimination is wrong, but so is forcing someone to do something that they object to.

Eckern writes that, despite the fact that he has worked in musical theater all his life, and has a gay sister who is in a committed relationship, he did not realize until now what a discriminatory thing he was doing to not only vote for this anti-civil rights proposition, but to donate money.

If $1,000 is so disposable to Eckern that he can put it toward the governmental oppression of the very people he works with and his own family members without deep contemplation of the political realities and the personal contradictions of this stance, then why is anyone concerned that he's quit this job?

If the job is so disposable to Eckern that he wouldn't make the contrite statement and the conciliatory gesture first and ask for forgiveness and see if there's some way he could stay on at his job and make up for the hurt feelings and the discriminatory acts, then why is everyone so concerned that he quit his job?

If his Mormonism is such that he can donate $1,000 for a cause one day because they tell him to, and $1,000 to the opposite cause some days later, when the damage has already been done, instead of standing up for his Mormon beliefs, then why is everyone so concerned that he quit his job?

He sounds like the same sort of shallow-thinking, two-faced, ignorant, waffling, hypocritical, self-interest-spending conservative that has been running the world and oppressing minorities for millennia. This story has no more meat than the Joe The Plumber story. It's a red herring used to fool swing voters and drum up sympathy for the villain. The last time this issue was put to a vote in California, it had 14% more support. They won their hateful proposition by 51%. Should this ever come up again, it will be defeated and the separate-but-equal status seen for what it is and has been seen in other precedent-setting cases. This is why this story is being whipped up, to create an Orwellian subterfuge to vilify gays even more and to prevent people from "buyer's remorse" for having sold out their fellow man.

And for what? Is the quality of your love so strained that you can't abide the love of others? Is the quality of your marriages so poor that they would be jeopardized by theirs? Is the state of heterosexuality so tenuously held that you fear otherwise straight youth will be "turned" gay merely because they learn there is such a thing?

This Eckern thing is a story, but it doesn't have the ring of being the whole story. I have read it from various sources and nowhere do I find the full accounting of what happened, when, and why with regard to the part everyone has the biggest problem, the separation of Eckern from his job. If I believed this man were railroaded out of a job for no reason other than that some mob couldn't tolerate his private political views and a private donation, I would speak out for his right to remain in his job. Heck, consider this that.

But does Eckern WANT to remain in that job? Would he feel comfortable returning to work with gay men and women as he has for 25 years now that they know the degree of his involvement in their disenfranchisement at so late a date as earlier this month? It's awkward, to say the least, to come out of the closet among so many people who are completely at odds with your way of life. If that's what he wants, perhaps it would do the most healing. But does he not prefer to take some time, settle on a political posture that sits well with him and his understanding of God's will, and then go to work someplace where he can be who he is without recrimination or opprobrium, the same thing that gays want? Something tells me there is more to this story than has been said. But at the end of the day whatever it is won't be nearly as relevant as the fact that this kind of amendment to a state constitution isn't just anti-gay, it's inherently un-American. Savvy people working for the anti-gay side understand how anti-American their values are, and that's why they're trying to confuse the issue. And that is the greatest hallmark of Republicanism there is these days.

Mark you said: Is it too much to ask you whiney Mormon victim DIVAS...too MAN UP, and OWN what you did to OTHERS?

I have seen news footage of mobs shoving an old woman around, knocking a cross out of her hands and stomping it on the ground.... That is not an example of 'manning' up, is it?

The voting statistics clearly show that a large percentage of black California voters (70+%) voted for proposition 8. Yet, we don't see crowds of no on 8 protesting any Christian church whose members are mostly black... and we certainly don't see them pushing elderly black women....Why not?

Believe me, I know the answer ... could it be self preservation and 'political correctness' ? .... Is anyone 'Partner A' or 'Partner B' enough to admit this-let alone go picket a Christian Church in Compton?

Much Mahalo!

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