“Will & Grace” & Bruni & Quinn
It may be the city that never sleeps but for a tired law student in New York, seldom does anything truly eventful happen on a Monday night. This night was a rare exception.
It seemed that every fashionable young professional had come straight from work to the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle for a Conversation on Same-Sex Marriage presented by Fordham Law’s Forum on Law, Culture & Society. All of us waited impatiently to hear from some of the most outspoken names affiliated with gay rights in New York City: Frank Bruni, the inspiring Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times; Max Mutchnik, the Emmy-winning producer and co-creator of “Will & Grace”; and Christine Quinn, New York City’s first female and openly gay Speaker of the New York City Council (and a 2013 mayoral candidate).
After polite introductions by Thane Rosenbaum, the Director of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society, the conversation began. Mr. Rosenbaum led the panelists’ discussion by asking a variety of questions, ranging from why having legal recognition for same-sex marriage is so important to whether Ms. Quinn would have stood a chance against Rudy Guiliani in the 1993 mayoral election. To that last question, Ms. Quinn responded, “Oh, I would have kicked his ass,” to appreciative laughter from the audience (other media outlets have suggested this was an attempt at boasting but as a spectator I’m certain the comment was said lightheartedly).
But the truthful answer to that question was obvious. In 1993, openly gay and lesbian politicians stood no chance of winning any election in the country. As a matter of fact, several openly gay candidates for office back then were attacked during campaigns because of their sexual orientation. Just ask Karen Burstein (now a professor at my alma mater) who was attacked for being a lesbian during her 1993 run for New York Attorney General.
But the biggest difference between 1993 and 2013? At least in New York, there’s not only a lesbian in the New York City mayoral race… there’s a lesbian in the lead. Amazing how much can change given some time and hard work.
“The passage of time alone is not indicative of cultural change or acceptance,” said Ms. Quinn. “It’s what we do with that time.” Ms. Quinn’s tone throughout the evening was sassy and smart. Her infectious laughter and pointed humor was both timely and refreshingly down to earth. “I don’t come a la carte. If you don’t like the lesbian part, you’re shit out of luck. It’s a lump it or leave it kind of situation.”
There were other moving personal examples of social progress that evening, some of which were illustrated through clips of “Will & Grace” and the behind-the-scenes story of what it was like to work on one of television’s first shows to feature openly gay characters and help change the social climate for gay individuals. Mr. Mutchnik had many entertaining stories to share, including some about coming out to his boss and the real-life people who inspired the characters for “Will & Grace.”
After a clip of actor Sean Hayes (Jack on “Will & Grace”) was shown defending a boy from bullying in school, Mr. Mutchnik recalled that back when the scene was filmed, it was not even implied that the character being bullied was intended to be gay, let alone that the actor may be. Today, while filming a pilot for Mr. Hayes’s new series on NBC, a young, openly gay character was auditioned for by a young, openly gay boy.
Some things, though, said the panel, had not changed enough. “Not having marriage equality sends a horrible message that you aren’t the same, you’re different, you don’t deserve as much,” said Mr. Mutchnik, whose husband, Erik Hyman, is an attorney in Los Angeles. Ms. Quinn, who married Kim Catullo last May, agreed, “A marriage is a happy event, God willing, and a marker in one’s life. Everyone should be able to wear a beautiful dress, or a tasteful pantsuit, if you know what I mean, and take part in that.”
Ms. Quinn also discussed the legal implications that come with not being given the right to marry, specifically in terms of taxes and federal benefits. Her comments alluded to the case of Edie Windsor, whose lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and will soon be heard by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Bruni was perhaps the most stoic and poised member of the group, making some of the more elegant remarks throughout the evening. After discussing the homophobic comments made by San Francisco 49er, Chris Culliver, Mr. Bruni observed, “The pushback against the homophobia has become greater than the homophobia itself.” Mr. Rosenbaum also spoke extensively with Mr. Bruni about his work as an openly gay journalist and his stirring piece – “A Father’s Journey” – in which Mr. Bruni interviewed his father about his personal journey from silent rejection of his gay son to loving acceptance.
It was an evening of taking stock of where we are, of looking at how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. It was an evening, overall, of celebration.