Culture

Rose Parade gay marriage faced opposition on all sides

Some members of gay community say wedding is setting the community back

Danny Leclair, left, and Aubrey Loots share a moment by their cake ahead of their New Year's Day wedding on the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's third annual float.
Eric Reed/AP Images

Danny Leclair's marriage to his partner of 12 years at the Rose Parade on Thursday will be televised to more than 80 million viewers across the nation. His very public display of same-sex affection and commitment has ruffled some feathers inside the gay community and out.

For many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, 2013 was a year of marriages doubling as political statements — celebrations of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down provisions of the prohibitive Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 as well as the states that have legalized same-sex marriages.

Leclair says he sympathizes with members of the gay community who dislike the almost inevitable politicization of their private lives. But when the 45-year-old Los Angeles–based aesthetician received messages from the gay community saying a Rose Parade wedding would upset heterosexual sensibilities at the traditional family event and essentially set the community back, he was angered.

"I responded to someone saying, 'I totally respect your right to live your life privately, but condemning people who want to put their faces out there pushes the community a little further back into the closet,'" Leclair said.

Leclair and his partner, Aubrey Loots, 42, will tie the knot on the AIDS Healthcare Foundation float.

The advocacy organization's president, Michael Weinstein, told Al Jazeera he's faced some backlash from gay friends.

"What I don't like is that some of my best friends who are gay have said this is rubbing people's noses in something," he said.

"There are people who say they opposed Prop 8, but that (the marriage) isn't appropriate for (us) to bring into polite company. With friends like these, who needs enemies?"

It seems some members of the gay community agree with advocates aiming to restore and maintain legislation barring same-sex marriages.

In just over week, Boycott the 2014 Rose Parade, a Facebook page by Tea Party–affiliated San Diego County resident Karen Grube had garnered more than 6,000 likes, as of Dec. 31.

Weinstein said of Grube's proposed boycott, "I'm not sure what you mean. You're not buying anything. As far as I know, watching the Rose Parade is free. How many of the 80-plus million people won't tune in?"

Grube did not respond to an interview request from Al Jazeera. But Brian Brown, president of National Organization for Marriage, a Washington, D.C., lobbying group opposing the practice, said in an emailed statement, "The decision to allow (a gay couple) to 'marry' on a float during the Rose Parade denigrates this once family-friendly event."

"At least with the Rose Parade, parents watching on television are forewarned and can simply change the channel, although families who long ago made plans to travel to the event will have to either abandon their plans or be forced to endure this political spectacle," he added.

Grube suggested on her Facebook page that boycott supporters contact the event's corporate sponsors to address their complaints.

Coca-Cola — which is one of the parade's sponsors and is facing accusations from gay-rights advocates who say the company abandons its equal-opportunity policies in places with anti-gay legislation like Russia — did not reply to multiple requests for the company's response to Grube's call to action.  

Parade organizers at the Tournament of Roses told Al Jazeera they stand by AIDS Healthcare's "creative expressions" but did not directly address the controversy. 

Combating AIDS?

Not everyone opposed to the Rose Parade wedding thinks, as Grube writes on her Facebook boycott page, that gay marriage is "disgusting."

"The intent was good, but given the badly divided feelings of Californians on the subject of same-sex marriage, it was a mistake to place a same-sex couple, by themselves, at the top of the float," said Ralph Shaffer, an emeritus professor of history at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona.

He also expressed opposition to the idea that prompted the float.

Weinstein developed the float's theme, "Love is the best protection."

He said that for children living in parts of the United States where gays are routinely victimized by their communities, they will learn that they "in their futures can be in loving, committed relationships and marriages — just like their parents and relatives or others. That wholesomeness will lead to people protecting themselves and preventing the spread of HIV."

Weinstein explained that "if you love your partner, you're going to protect him. If you have a general love of the (gay) community, you're going to be more careful."

Shaffer believes a gay marriage on an AIDS Healthcare Foundation float sends the wrong message about gays.

Gay marriage is "apparently an answer to AIDS. But AIDS is not solely a problem for gays. It would have been better had the float shown several couples getting married, all of them heterosexual, except the one gay couple," Shaffer said.

He expected that some people attending the parade would boo the event, set for 9:30 a.m. Los Angeles time.

With gay-marriage opponents like Grube vocally expressing their disgust, Leclair has considered the possibility that his wedding will be tainted by violence. And despite heavy security at the event, it's an eventuality he's willing to face — not just in the name of gay marriage.

"Would I give my life to a world that lives with compassion and understanding? Absolutely. Would I give my life to communicate that our divisiveness is destroying this country? Absolutely. For me, it's much more than 'Would I give my life for the right to marry?'" he said.

"It's a cog in a much bigger wheel." 

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