California’s Gay-Marriage Ballot Proposal Mirrors Upcoming Film ‘Milk’

Gus Van Sant movie follows San Francisco city supervisor's efforts against an anti-gay ballot initiative in the 1970s.

LOS ANGELES — A controversial California proposition, eliciting heated debate from both sides. Screams of support for gay rights in one corner, the preservation of family values in the other. Dreams of change, hope and equality butting heads with religious folks who claim their Bibles are against it.

As a record number of Californians voted Tuesday on Proposition 8 — which sought to amend the state’s constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry — many probably thought that Hollywood should make a movie about the ballot measure.

Well, they kind of already did.

On November 26, Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” will open in limited release and is already garnering huge awards-season buzz for stars Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and James Franco. And with Prop 8′s passing , the ’70s biopic has suddenly become strikingly relevant.

Much of “Milk” revolves around San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk’s efforts against Proposition 6 — a 1978 initiative that would have made it mandatory for the state to fire gay teachers, along with public-school employees who supported gay rights. Multiple scenes have Penn (portraying the nation’s first openly gay elected official) delivering stirring speeches about equality for all and then celebrating a groundbreaking victory against the proposition.

On the 30th anniversary of Milk’s triumph, however, many Californians are wondering whether the gay-rights cause has truly made any progress. Early screenings of the film adjourned to passionate lobby conversations comparing the propositions. Without the inspirational politician around (Milk was murdered later that year), gay activists are finding themselves asking a simple question this week: What would Harvey do?

The film might offer an answer: Van Sant’s film depicts Milk as a cunning figure who orchestrated well-organized, nonviolent protests that helped open people’s eyes to inequality. At one point in the film, when someone informs Harvey that they might lose the Prop 6 battle, he responds that failure could be a good thing, as it would spur outrage, calls to action and a desire to continue the fight.

It looks like gay-rights activists in L.A. are following Milk’s lead. A protest rally has been organized for Wednesday night (November 5) in West Hollywood, California, so Prop 8 opponents can voice their concerns over the ballot initiative’s passage.

Later this month, moviegoers will have the opportunity to hear the words of Harvey Milk, as spoken by Sean Penn. Whether the film will change the political landscape is anyone’s guess, but this much is certain: Milk himself would’ve undoubtedly enjoyed the opportunity to have people rally around him one more time.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Milk.”

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[This story was originally published on 11.5.08 at 4:33 p.m. ET]