DeGeneres and Takei Vow to Marry Partners

George Takei and Ellen DeGeneres plan to marry their partners and risk ratings.

May 20, 2008 — -- Oh, my! George Takei and Ellen DeGeneres, two of Hollywood's unambiguously gay actors are the first to announce they will marry their partners under California's new same sex marriage law.

Cultural critics agree that most of America is ready for a gay Ozzie and Harriet or Ward and June Cleaver in their favorite stars and that the surrounding publicity will likely help their careers.

"It's a move that sends an important message to the heartland while garnering tons of press for the celebrities themselves," Michael Musto, columnist for the Village Voice, told "It's a 'good for them and good for me' kind of action."

DeGeneres, host of the syndicated talk show "Ellen," has said she will marry her partner of four years, Australian actress Portia de Rossi, 36, who had roles in "Ally McBeal" and "Arrested Development."

The 50-year-old film actress previously had a widely publicized affair-gone-wrong with Anne Heche before dating Alexandra Mary Hedison, 38, of the "L Word."

The Emmy Award-winning actress has come a long way since her character Ellen Morgan came out to a therapist played by Oprah Winfrey in the fourth season of her groundbreaking series, "Ellen."

Mr. Sulu Marries

George Takei, the original Mr. Sulu from television's "Star Trek," said he will marry longtime partner Brad Altman this summer. For the last two years, Takei, 71, has served as announcer on "The Howard Stern Show" on satellite radio.

"Our California dream is reality," Takei wrote on his Web site. "At long last, the barrier to full marriage rights for same-sex couples has been torn down."

Takei, who also had a role on the television Sci-Fi series "Heroes" last year, has been an outspoken advocate for the same-sex marriage bill, which the California Assembly just passed this week, allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

California is the first state to intentionally amend the definition of marriage as between "two persons," not between a man and a woman. For the past several years, same-sex couples have flocked to either Canada or Massachusetts, where the courts legalized same-sex marriage.

The state goes further than Vermont and Connecticut, which have passed legislation allowing more strictly defined "civil unions."

Musto, who wrote the cover story for Out magazine, "The Gay Closet and Why the Stars Won't Come Out and Play," said sealing the marriage contract won't be career-damaging for either DeGeneres or Takei.

"Ellen is America's sweetheart and has been out of the closet in the press, doing so a tiny bit more on her show lately," he said. "People have known for years that, 'Yep, she's gay.' I've been urging her to be more out on her show -- she seemed a bit ambiguous for a while, though she's been out in the media -- so, I applaud this exciting step forward.

"In George's case, it can only help to get renewed interest in his career," he said.

Hollywood's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

For years, the entertainment industry has held a kind of celebrity "don't ask, don't tell" policy that keeps some stars in the closet and others open, but not flaunting their relationships in the institution of marriage.

For years, Hollywood publicists have guarded the secrets of their clients' sexuality, for fear it would kill them at the box office. Famously closeted stars included Rock Hudson, Merv Griffin and Paul Lynde. Many of today's stars -- Jodie Foster, Michelle Rodriguez and Clay Aiken, for example -- have been the subject of speculation on their sexual orientation.

Though some groups may threaten to boycott advertisers, "Anyone who has a problem with it will no doubt find themselves in an increasingly bitter minority," Musto said.

"There are moments in the history of any movement when the corner is turned," Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a gay rights group, told the Washington Post. "This is it. This is the tipping point."

Ted Casablanca, a columnist for E! Online and a gay man who just "married" his partner in a civil union ceremony in Hawaii, agrees that public perception of same-sex couples goes up a "notch" when stars are legally able to marry.

"Wherever the notch is to legalize in society, it doesn't matter," Casablanca said. "It's one more notch and the more notches you get, we're a part of a culture that is less inflammatory and incendiary."

Though gay marriage will make no difference for DeGeneres' strong fan base, it could have a more shocking impact on those who are still in the closet, he said.

"If Tom Cruise said, 'Guess what? After all these years, I decided to be gay and get married,' that's hugely different," Casablanca said. DeGeneres and Takei are "the types of stars who can afford to do whatever they want with their reputation.

"For Ellen, it's not a risk of alienating her fan base," he said. "She's already so family-oriented and not a sexy, slinky broad out there. She's very domesticated and secure.

"These people have already made up their minds that she is one of them," he said. "She'll say, 'You're not going to believe what Portia did emptying the dishwasher last night.'"

That conventional tone is one of the reasons Casablanca has -- so far -- not thought about legally marrying his partner, though he admits he might consider it for financial reasons so the couple can file jointly on their taxes.

"I never wanted to get married, like my parents bickering all those years or like Britney," he said. "Our very nature [as gay men] used to be bucking the system. That's how we were raised."

Indeed, in the eyes of some, these stars and their home state have already "bucked the system," according to Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, who said his organization would not boycott actors in same-sex marriages.

"The triviality of TV ratings isn't the issue here," Schneeberger told "What's important is that the institution of marriage is under attack -- and the attackers are a judiciary that thinks its job is to make laws, rather than merely interpret them."