Protests, the arts, and the consequences of an unpopular opinion


Where is the proper line between the lawful exercise of one’s political or religious beliefs, and the acceptable penalty for that exercise? Let me save some of you some reading time. I don’t know.

But the aftermath of the Proposition 8 vote in California, which banned gay marriage, is providing a suitable backdrop to ask the question and discuss it… if we dare.

National Public Radio carried a story this morning on the protests in which people who donated the money to support the measure, are now being targeted.

“El Coyote takes your gay dollar to fund gay hatred,” John Dennison shouted, pacing in front of the restaurant. He’s outraged that one of El Coyote’s owners, a devout Mormon, reportedly gave $100 to the campaign for Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban.

In Sacramento yesterday, the artistic director of the California Musical Theater resigned after it was revealed Scott Eckern donated $1,000 to the group pushing the amendment. He, too, is a Mormon. The resignation came after Marc Shaiman, the Tony Award-winning composer, said that he would not let his work be performed in the theater, according to the New York Times.

There is nothing in the Constitution that protects someone from the non-government-afflicted consequences of holding a political view, some people said in 2003. Then, however, it was the “right” staging the protest when one of the most popular musical groups at the time — the Dixie Chicks — made known their opposition to the war in Iraq. It cost them vital airplay on radio stations, record sales, and concert dates.

Is post-Proposition 8 that much different? Susan Egan, a Broadway actress, posted a letter on Facebook supporting the idea of boycotting Mr. Eckern’s theater.

It’s now a video on YouTube:

But now she’s having second thoughts, the Times reported today.

“My actions have caused him harm, just as his actions caused harm to people he loved,” she said. “We’re all guilty.”

According to the Times, she’s not alone:

That sentiment was echoed by Mr. Shaiman, who said that some of the pain being felt among gay theater artists after passage of Proposition 8 has been self-inflicted.

“Our anger is against ourselves, too, that we were too compliant,” he said. “It was beyond our ken that this could ever happen. But we were terribly, terribly wrong.”

The constitutional questions are resolved in the courts, but the social and moral implications of holding an unpopular opinion are most often played out in the arts — from blacklists and Pete Seeger, to the Smothers Brothers, to the Dixie Chicks, to a director of a small theater in California.