Chad Griffin is the hard-charging political and media strategist who helped to spearhead a federal lawsuit to overturn California's voter-approved Proposition 8. If successful, the suit could impact other antigay laws across the nation. With a courtroom decision expected soon, Griffin is thinking he may have a winner.
"I feel cautiously optimistic," he says from his downtown office, referring to the lawsuit seeking to end California's ban on same-sex marriage. "We presented an incredibly strong case."
It certainly helped to have two of the best attorneys in the country on his side: former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and preeminent trial lawyer David Boies. Griffin, who still holds the title of youngest staffer to work in the White House (the Hope, Arkansas, native took a job with the Clinton administration when he was just 19), runs in well-connected circles, which give him access to talent and money. His firm, Griffin/Schake, counts California's first lady, Maria Shriver, director Rob Reiner and HBO as some of its clients (Reiner helped him to retain the services of Olson for the Prop. 8 legal battle).
But what gives Griffin, a handsome and gregarious 30-something who lives near Griffith Park, an edge, and what probably makes him successful, is his strong belief that one person can definitely make a difference — even during these increasingly corporate times.
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"I went into a 24-hour spiral of depression after the Prop. 8 loss," says Griffin, who helped raise millions of dollars for the failed "No on 8" campaign, including an eye-opening contribution of $100,000 from Brad Pitt. "Then I was looking to see what I could do next."
A year later, and with the support of his business partner, Kristina Schake, Griffin found himself in a federal courthouse in San Francisco, where Olson and Boies made headlines as they argued that Prop. 8 should be overturned. Final arguments in the closely watched case are set for June 16.
"As long as institutionalized discrimination exists," says Griffin, explaining his larger motivation, "it gives people a license to hate. As a result, gay teens continue to kill themselves, people commit hate crimes, and gays and lesbians continue to face job discrimination."
Griffin moved to L.A. 12 years ago knowing no one in this vast city. That situation might have given pause to somebody with less tenacity and energy, but Griffin has emerged as a major voice on gay issues in California. "We will absolutely take [the Prop. 8 lawsuit] all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if we have to."