When the donation came to light, he faced threats of a boycott of the theater. He quickly responded by resigning, stating he never meant to hurt anybody, and offering to donate $1000 to a gay rights charity.
What to make of this? According to the New York Times, nobody is happy, not even those who threatened to boycott the theater, such as Marc Shaiman. Eckern, for his part, said "I honestly had no idea that this would be the reaction."
I have to wonder how someone who makes his living in musical theater could have been surprised that homosexuals feel strongly about achieving equal rights. I almost feel bad for him, alone in a small section of society where almost everyone supports gay rights, while the majority of America still fights against them.
But would I feel bad for him if he had voted against a woman's right to vote, or for school segregation? Would I feel bad for him if he had voted that Jews should not have the right to marry?
I don't think Mr. Eckern is a bad person. But I cannot forgive his prejudice, either.
Yet let us also bear in mind that, publicly at least, our Democratic President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden have stated that they do not believe in gay marriage, either. Secretly, I was hoping that maybe they were lying when they said it. After all, they did not want it to become the center of the campaign. And they certainly didn't contribute money to the cause - that in itself puts Eckern in a totally different category.
And yet, how sad. And how hopeless Eckern's battle was. Because, for all the hubub about Proposition 8, those who are fighting against gay marriage have already lost. Yes, there has been a setback. But it is a only matter of time. The ads for Prop 8 focused on the children. The children will learn that being gay is acceptable, the ads implied.
They will already learn that, of course. And soon those children will vote. And someday they will look back at people such as Eckern and shake their heads in wonder, maybe even feeling a little melancholy for those caught in an old belief system, a belief system destined someday to die.
I hope soon.