Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Wanda Sykes speaks out for marriage rights


Wanda Sykes will serve as mistress of ceremonies for the sold-out Equality California gala Saturday.
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Three months since she publicly revealed for the first time that she is an out and proud lesbian, comedian Wanda Sykes is once again taking to the public stage to speak out for marriage rights.

Sykes, 44, stunned the crowd at a pro-same-sex marriage rally in Las Vegas on November 15 when she announced that not only was she gay, but also that she had married her girlfriend just weeks prior. At both the Nevada demonstration and in subsequent appearances on late night talk shows, Sykes has criticized the passage of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment in California that stripped marriage rights from same-sex couples.

This weekend she will emcee the annual Equality California awards dinner inside San Francisco City Hall. Organizers of the sold-out event attribute their success to Sykes's appearance. And in March, the star of the CBS comedy show The New Adventures of Old Christine , will host the Human Rights Campaign's Los Angeles gala and Hero Awards.

In advance of the events, Sykes has been granting her first interviews with gay media publications since her coming out. She sat down with the Advocate for a feature in its March issue, which arrived in mailboxes last week, and in between taping her television series Monday spoke by phone with the Bay Area Reporter for her first interview with a gay newspaper.

"I think my strong suit is just to get the word out as far as marriage and marriage equality. A lot of people just aren't aware of what all comes with marriage," said Sykes. "You have civil unions and this and that, but it is not the same thing. There are hundreds of benefits you get under marriage that we don't have under domestic partnerships."

As one of the few African American celebrities who is out, Sykes is being looked to as a conduit between the black community and the LGBT community. Relations between the two have strained since Prop 8's passage last fall, when initial reports inaccurately blamed black voters for giving the measure its margin of victory. It is a responsibility Sykes embraces.

"Hey, I am black. I should use it, right? If they see a face that is familiar, and also one you can go, 'Oh, okay, she is black,' and you associate that with a group discriminated against, you go, 'I get it.' It is hard for rich, white gay guys to scream discrimination," said Sykes. "People are going to be 'Shut up and sit down. Oh, that poor gay white guy. I feel sorry for him.'"

Sykes joined the board of the Equality California Institute last year and has volunteered to help educate residents of her home state on the need for marriage equality.

"I am a resident of California, I live here, I got married here," she said as for why she choose to work with EQCA. "Equality California, they have passed so much legislation in the past 10 years, like the domestic partners bill, and the marriage bill twice now, I just really wanted to be a part of what they were doing."

As campaign director for And Marriage For All, which is focused on educating people of color about marriage equality, Andrea Shorter said she is "absolutely thrilled" to have Sykes as a part of the movement.

"I think she would make a wonderful connection and bridge-builder in our effort to connect not only with the African American community, but she is someone who has such good universal appeal, she would be an effective and welcome ally across a number of communities," said Shorter, who herself is an out black lesbian. "She is an on-point social commentator, and I think the substance of what she has to offer has not changed. I am hopeful the African American community will continue to embrace her, her talent, and listen to her perspective on what marriage equality and civil rights mean for LGBT people all over."

The EQCA event will mark the first time Sykes has been inside City Hall, where five years ago today (Thursday, February 12) Mayor Gavin Newsom stunned the world by ordering city officials to begin marrying same-sex couples in violation of California's anti-gay marriage statutes.

"I am very excited about that. San Francisco is like, one of my favorite cities in the country," said Sykes, though she will spend Valentine's Day apart from her wife, Alexandra, who will be on the East Coast.

 At the time that the first set of marriages were taking place, Sykes was seeing a different woman. She joked that while she was glad to hear of Newsom's move, she prayed, "Oh God, please don't let this go through!" and was not personally upset when the state Supreme Court put an end to the gay weddings.

"It was more fear" that her then-partner would want to marry, she quipped.

But in terms of seeing LGBT people granted equal rights, Sykes said, "I was very excited and thought it was very bold on the mayor's part. As California goes, so goes the rest of the country."

The mayor's directive would lead to a landmark ruling by the state Supreme Court that gays and lesbians deserve the right to marry, which was later overturned by Prop 8. Now as the court once again addresses the issue – it is set to hear oral arguments March 5 on whether the anti-gay measure violates the state constitution – Sykes is praying that in addition to upholding the validity of her own marriage, the court will throw out Prop 8.

"I hope they stick with how they ruled when the issue was presented to them earlier. They judged by the law and they ruled by what the Constitution said. To me, they made a fair decision and the right decision," said Sykes. "Basically, it is just public opinion that got us here. I just hope they will protect the LGBT community just how they should protect other minorities and not let public opinion become law instead of what our constitution says."

No matter how the court rules will not change how she feels about her wife, or the couple's desire to one day have children, said Sykes.

"I will still feel like I am married. And I have the receipts to prove it," she said. "If not, hey, I will throw that into the deficit we are in already."

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