At a concert to raise money for the legal fund to overturn Proposition 8, Elton John earned multiple standing ovations for classics like "Bennie and the Jets," "Rocket Man" and "Levon," but the biggest cheers were reserved for what he said just before performing his final song of the evening.
"As a gay man. I think I have it all," he said. "I have a wonderful career. A wonderful life. I have my health. I have a partner of 17 years and I have a son. And you know what, I don't have everything, because I don't have the respect of people like the church, and people like politicians who tell me that I not worthy or that I am 'less than' because I am gay. Well, fuck you...."
The hundreds in the crowd stood and cheered wildly, before he went on: "We deserve the respect, equality, the right to be recognized as a human being. Until we are, then we have to do these kind of events. We have to fight the good fight and we will win this fight."
The event at the sprawling Beverly Hills estate of Ron Burkle raised more than $3 million for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, making it one of the biggest recent political fund-raising events in Los Angeles.
Those present included stars like Matthew Morrison, Adam Lambert and Jane Lynch, singer Jason Mraz, director Gus Van Sant, producers Norman Lear and Lawrence Bender, Disney's Rich Ross and, reflecting the presence of Ted Olson and David Boies as lead attorneys on the case, politicos from both sides of the spectrum. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman also were there, as were Julian Bond, Dolores Huerta and Dennis and Judy Sheperd.
Speaking of Olson and Boies, John said, "It is so wonderful to see two people of different political views actually get on, and believe in the same thing, and that is what this country needs more of."
The foundation is hoping to raise millions for the case, which could be slowed by a recent effort by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to clear up a critical procedural matter. The appellate judges are asking that the California Supreme Court clarify whether the proponents of Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, have standing to appeal U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's decision. Walker ruled in August that the initiative was unconstitutional.
"Our goal is not just to win the case, but when that happens, people of the United States will say, 'But of course, that had to happen,'" Olson told the crowd.
A goal has been a showdown in the Supreme Court, and Boies quipped, "Ted Olson and I have this agreement. I'll get the four justices I won in Bush v. Gore, and Ted will get the other five, and we are going to win this case 9-0."
Wearing a long tuxedo coat, John performed at a piano with synthesizer. Watching him was his partner David Furnish, and although they have a civil union, John noted they are unable to marry in Britain and in California.
"It seems ridiculous we can have a young son but we cannot have a marriage," John said. "It's crazy."
Rob Reiner, who with Chad Griffin originally hatched the idea to pursue the case, emceed, and told the crowd, "We are putting the last piece of the civil rights puzzle into place...Years from now, people are going to look back and say, 'What was that all about?'"
In its size and scope, the event was in contrast to a fund-raiser that Burkle hosted for the No on 8 campaign in the weeks before the November election. Although it raised more than $1 million, it didn't draw the diversity of donors from the entertainment and political worlds. A testament to that came when Bruce Cohen, one of the foundation's board members who is also co-producing this year's Oscars, took out a piece of paper and started thanking a long list of co-hosts, like Steve Bing, David Geffen and J.J. Abrams.
"On Tuesday I am going to be begging the Oscar nominees not to take out a piece of paper and read a list of names, and look what I am doing," Cohen said.
Update: There was one self-critical moment during John's concert, when he talked of the government's lack of response to the AIDS crisis. He had yet to go public with his sexuality, and he said, "The American government was AWOL,” he said. “And I was AWOL. It was a disgrace, and I was a disgrace as well.”
Photos: Alex Berliner, via AFER.
John's playlist is below: