Actor Sean Penn spoke up for same-sex marriage both in his Oscars acceptance speech and in remarks to the press after he collected his award.

The Oscars ceremony was targeted by homophobic Christian groups. Some held up placards claiming actor Heath Ledger, who died last year, is in Hell. Mr Ledger was named Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Dark Knight.

Mr Penn won Best Actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay man elected to political office in the US.

Mr Milk was assassinated less than a year after his election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

“Thank you. Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns,” Mr Penn said when accepting his award. 

“I did not expect this, but I, and I want it to be very clear, that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often.

“But I am touched by the appreciation and I hoped for it enough that I did want to scribble down, so I had the names in case you were commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns, and so I want to thank my best friend, Sata Matsuzawa.

“My circle of long-time support, Mara, Brian, Barry and Bob. The great Cleve Jones. Our wonderful writer, Lance Black. Producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks.

“And particularly, as all, as actors know, our director either has the patience, talent and restraint to grant us a voice or they don’t, and it goes from the beginning of the meeting, through the cutting room. And there is no finer hands to be in than Gus Van Sant.

“And finally, for those, two last finallies, for those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.

“We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone. And there are, and there are, these last two things. I’m very, very proud to live in a country that is willing to elect an elegant man President and a country who, for all its toughness, creates courageous artists.

“And this is in great due respect to all the nominees, but courageous artists, who despite a sensitivity that sometimes has brought enormous challenge, Mickey Rourke rises again and he is my brother. Thank you all very much.”

Mr Penn went on to discuss gay rights in a press conference after he had accepted his statuette. In November voters in California approved a ballot measure denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

Proposition 8 was in response to a court ruling that gay marriage was legal. Between June and November 18,000 same-sex couples got married in California. The validity of Prop 8 is being challenged in the state Supreme Court.

Q. Congratulations. I asked you a couple questions at the SAG Awards. You were talking about that, actually, you remember Harvey Milk, being old enough to remember him. Can you talk about, now that you’ve won the highest honor in Hollywood for this award, what it means to you to be able to bring his story and how important you feel his story is? What Harvey Milk was and what he represented.

A. You know, that means a lot to myself and to everybody involved, not only in the movie, but to anybody who believes in equal rights for human beings, it’s pretty simple. And, certainly, what I mentioned from the stage earlier tonight, to see this culture of ignorance, and that breeds this kind of hateful expression, that these people have their signs outside essentially telling you that you’re less than human.

There’s nothing more important than the themes of this movie as well as addressing things that are simply, you know, entertaining, I think. But there’s nothing more important, and so being part of something like that is a privilege. And when you see something like what you saw outside today, it enhances that.

Q. Hi, Sean. Congratulations. You certainly deserve the award. I wanted to ask you, what did you say to those people who were holding those signs tonight, if you happen to go back past Sunset and Highland and see some of those signs and what they’re saying?

A. I’d tell them to turn in their hate card and find their better self, you know. I think that these are largely taught limitations and ignorances, this kind of thing, and it’s a really it’s very sad in a way, because it’s a demonstration of such emotional cowardice to be so afraid to be extending the same rights to a fellow man as you would want for yourself.

I would ask them not to tempt those of us who see something more deeply than they are looking at it, as angry as they tend to be in a void.

Q. Tonight, in your acceptance speech, you mentioned President Barack Obama. I’m wondering what you would like to see the president do in relation to gay rights.

A. We know his public position as far as the specific issue of gay marriage has not been, let’s say, officially supportive of that. I would like to believe that that’s a political stand right now and not necessarily a future one or a felt one. I don’t think that he or that any of us, and in particular our president, will long be able to take that position.

It’s inevitable that this is not because it’s not a human luxury; these are human needs and they will be gotten. So he’s going to have to he’ll adapt. Right now I think it’s more focused on, more interested in what we’re going to do to tell him that we will support him in making those kinds of taking those kinds of initiatives.

He’s got people dying right now en masse, and people are desperately poor en masse, and I think those two emergencies need to be taken care of, without him taking too much time about the details of how he approached civil rights. But the day is going to come and it’s going to come quickly.

Transcript – Oscars website.