On a scorching last Saturday night, I drove into Los Angeles to see a very special play.
It was in one of the several dozen small theaters that make up the off-Broadway of Los Angeles. The play we attended at the Theater of Note was called, “He Asked For It” and had been well reviewed in the Los Angeles Times.
It was written by my stepson, Erik Patterson, who got his grounding at Newport Harbor High School and Occidental College.
This isn’t a first for Erik. He’s had a half-dozen plays produced in Los Angeles, one of which was nominated for an Ovation Award as the best new play of 2004.
Erik is still waiting for the visiting New York producer who is attracted by good reviews and word of mouth to stop by and see a work he would like to take to Broadway. It happens.
Meanwhile, Erik has written a movie — with his writing partner, Jessica Scott — due out on cable TV this fall and is working on two more movie projects.
Eight years of skill and persistence have finally wedged a foot in the door of a heartbreaking business, and no heat wave last Saturday was going to put off my seeing his latest creation.
The play is a coming out, of sorts, for Erik, who is gay. Seven years ago, his mother asked him to write her a letter for Christmas. He did, and she calls it “the greatest gift I will ever receive.” It read, in part: “There’s a conversation that you’ve been trying to have with me for a long time. I’ve been a brick wall of silence. I’m sorry for that. Every time you’ve tried to start this conversation, I’ve been afraid to continue it … So here goes. I’m going to begin it now. I love you. I’m gay. Let’s talk.”
“He Asked for It” is written from the sensitivities of that place, from, as his director Neil Weiss put it, “the desperate need to carve out an identity, the constant search for acceptance; the dark impulse to seek revenge for the random unfairness of life.”
It was impossible, as I left the theater, not to connect these ideas and themes with the inundation of media coverage this past week of the California Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage — thereby setting right one of the random unfairnesses of life.
The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, made that point with striking clarity and simplicity when he wrote: “An individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.”
Erik caught that same clarity when his mother expressed gratitude “that you were finally able to tell me who you are,” and he responded “being gay isn’t who I am, any more than being a heterosexual is who you are. It’s like having blue or brown eyes. It’s the way you’re born. It just is.”
The truth of both Justice George’s legal opinion and Erik’s gentle reminder was demonstrated daily to me during the years I was privileged to help raise this delightful young man. The legal rulings have always had a face for me. They weren’t statistics — the many millions of solid citizens denied basic rights because they were wired differently than the majority of us at birth. No, they were just Erik, when and if he chose to share the marriage vows, being denied that affirmation.
The California Supreme Court has now chosen to right this injustice. And all of the Americans who would deny the right of marriage to Erik in this country where “all men are created equal” will now rev up the machinery aimed at making this injustice permanent.
Hopefully, the ruling has come down early enough in the campaign year that those who would turn it into a political issue and try to make it a factor in choosing our next president will have worn out their message before it is time to vote on the initiative, sure to be on the ballot, that would amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages. But its release may also have the opposite effect by offering its opponents time to organize the evangelical troops — who might have sat out the election — and get them to the polls in November.
I can’t remember an election since Roosevelt-Hoover in 1932 when the issues were as clear as they are today. Real issues, starting with disengaging from an abysmal and fraudulent war and the provision of proper health care to all our citizens.
What a shame if such issues are allowed to be pushed into the background by such non-issues as same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to manage her own body, places where government has no business.
Eight years ago, 61% of California voters approved a ballot measure saying that the only valid marriage recognized in California is between a man and a woman.
That edict has now been superseded by the state Supreme Court. Whether or not the Court ruling will, in turn, be set aside depends on the millions of young voters who have joined the electorate and millions of others who have questioned the fairness of this proposition since it became law.
Here lies the hope that when and if Erik turns to marriage, that road will still be open to him — and to gay citizens of a country that prides itself on equal rights and privileges to all.
JOSEPH N. BELL lives in Newport Beach. His column runs Thursdays.