For a long time now, television host Ellen DeGeneres has been married to Portia de Rossi. Despite the many obstacles they had to overcome in order to get together, their relationship has always seemed remarkably strong. And in February 2020 Ellen opened up on her show about one of the secrets to their success.
There was, of course, a time when lesbian stars struggled to make it onto TV, and unfortunately that was the position Ellen found herself in back in 1997. After she came out publicly on an episode of her television show and in the media, she found herself a pariah. This was a time when nearly 70 percent of Americans didn’t think same-sex marriage should ever be allowed, according to a Gallup poll.
Ellen had previously felt like her sexuality would only ever be a hidden part of her. In a 2001 episode of the show Making Gay History, she haltingly said, “I didn’t know I was gay. I had thoughts of like, liking girls. It was very clear to me that I liked girls. But I didn’t think it was anything that I could actually pursue and… that [it] was an option for, you know… I just thought you had a boyfriend and got married and had a kid.”
Such was the homophobia of the time that after Ellen came out, the studio where she filmed received bomb threats. Not only that, but other people found her home and taped horrible messages to her door. It was a terrifying period, and Ellen’s own family members were scared for her.
It perhaps goes without saying that Ellen’s show didn’t last for much longer after she came out. Its network, ABC, started sticking a parental warning before the episodes. And advertisers including J.C. Penney, Chrysler and Coca-Cola raised objections. Then just one year after Ellen had revealed her sexuality, the show was cancelled.
At the time, Ellen was dating actress Anne Heche, but their relationship couldn’t survive the public backlash. In 2001 the then 42-year-old Ellen told Now magazine, “… Everyone was watching us like we were the only lesbians on the planet. That alone made being together difficult. We became such a target.”
However, Ellen found love again with Portia. The two met for the first time at a party in 2000, but the latter was still in the closet at the time. Indeed, she had feared what might happen if she came out. Although she practically fell in love at first sight when she saw Ellen, she apparently thought it would be impossible to pursue a relationship with her.
Luckily times changed to the extent that Portia was eventually able to reveal her true self to the world. In 2001 tabloid photos emerged of her out on dates with Ringo Starr’s stepdaughter Francesca Gregorini, and that information reached her friends and family. However, she refused to speak about any of it to the media.
Ellen and Portia met again on December 1, 2004, while both were attending the VH1’s Big in ‘04 Awards. They began dating after that, and it wasn’t too long before they were appearing in public as a couple. This meant that Portia was officially out to the world as a gay woman.
In 2005 Portia gave an interview to The Advocate about coming out and her relationship with Ellen. She said, “You think that’s the end of it when you tell one or two people, ‘I’m gay.’ Then, of course, it continues throughout your life. The last person I told was my grandma a few days ago in Australia.”
Telling her grandmother hadn’t been easy for Portia. She explained, “First thing she said was, ‘Well, this is a very bad day.’ It was the most honest reaction I’ve ever had. Then she said, ‘Darlin,’ you’re not one of those.’ It took her two minutes of being angry and upset and frustrated and disgusted – and then she just held her arms out to me and said, ‘I love you just the same.’”
Portia said that when rumors had first circulated about her being gay, “The most important thing for me was to never, ever, ever deny it. But I didn’t really have the courage to talk about it… I justified it in so many ways. Believe me, I had a very, very long and difficult struggle with my sexuality.”
In the same interview, Portia talked about her new girlfriend. She said, “I had met Ellen about five years ago, and there was definitely a lot of chemistry between us, but I didn’t allow myself to think of being with her just because of the place I was at. I was still on Ally McBeal and still closeted, and this seemed inconceivable. But I really never stopped thinking about her, because I just haven’t felt that kind of energy with anyone in my life.”
Portia had still been seeing Francesca when she ran into the TV presenter at the aforementioned awards show. The former explained, “[Ellen and I] just were kind of supposed to be together. That’s my side of the story. I really, really hated all the pain I put Francesca through, and I really didn’t want to hurt her. But I just couldn’t ignore the feelings I had for Ellen.”
The Advocate interviewer asked Portia, “Besides the chemistry, what else connects you with Ellen? You certainly must have some funny times together.” She answered, “We do. And it’s a very respectful, very loving, peaceful relationship. We have a lot in common; we share the same outlook on life. I really feel not alone for the first time in my life.”
Later on in the interview, another question put to the actress was, “If same-sex marriage becomes legal, would you like to get married?” With a smile, Portia said, “Well, I have to be asked, I guess. But I love the idea of marriage. I think it’s beautiful. I’m such a romantic, and I always have been.”
And in the end, Portia was asked; in May 2008 the state of California made same-sex marriage legal, and Ellen announced on her show that she and her girlfriend would soon be wed. The latter joked, “I would like to say now, for the first time, I am announcing: I am getting married… I’ll tell you who the lucky guy is soon.”
The intimate wedding took place in August 2008 and was attended by only 19 friends and family members. Afterwards Portia told People magazine, “The love we felt from the people surrounding us, and the love we have for each other, made it the most beautiful and emotional day.”
In November 2009 Ellen and Portia sat down with Oprah Winfrey for their first interview since getting married. Portia said, “The thing about being a gay couple is that in the past you referred to your wife and there [were] quotation marks around it. There was always that chance that people would kind of snicker about it. Now it’s fact. It’s law. She’s my wife. I get to say that she’s my wife, and that’s just the way it is.”
And Ellen said, “Anybody who’s married knows there is a difference. It feels like you’re home. There’s an anchor, there’s a safety. I’m going to be with her until the day I die and I know that.” She also added, “We are all equal citizens, and we should have the same right that anybody else on this earth has.”
In September 2010 Portia officially changed her last name to match that of her wife’s, although she would keep the name de Rossi for her professional career. Ellen couldn’t resist making a joke on Twitter, and wrote, “I just got some amazing news. The court has granted Portia’s name change. She’s now officially Portia Winfrey.”
As time went on, the DeGeneres marriage continued to be couple goals for everyone. However, neither of them wanted children. In April 2013 Portia told Out magazine, “You have to really want to have kids, and neither of us did. So, it’s just going to be me and Ellen and no babies – but we’re the best of friends and married life is blissful, it really is. I’ve never been happier than I am right now.”
Whenever rumors popped up that the marriage was in trouble, Ellen was quick to shoot them down. In December 2013 the presenter gave a jokey monologue on her show about finding a tabloid magazine with her and Portia in it. She quipped, “I read the headline underneath and it said ‘Ellen and Portia’s marriage crumbles.’ I was like, ‘Oh, what happened? They seemed so happy.’”
Ellen informed her audience, “It’s so ridiculous to me. There’s not one ounce of truth to any of it. The only thing we ever argue about is who loves who more – it really is true. And… we argue if we would let a kangaroo carry us in a pouch for a year.” She added, “If there’s anything you need to know, I will announce it here first.”
The same rumors went around in 2015 – and Ellen once again debunked them. Appearing on Howard Stern’s radio show that year, she said, “We don’t know anything about it until somebody tells us… I don’t know why they do this. We’re kind of flattered. We really don’t almost break up, we don’t fight, we’re madly in love, and I guess it’s boring.”
No matter what, the relationship between Ellen and Portia remained an incredibly strong one. And during a February 2020 episode of her show, Ellen gave an insight into one of the reasons why that was the case. During a game of “Burning Questions” with actress Lauren Graham, the question of romance came up.
Ellen asked the question, “What’s the most romantic thing you’ve done for someone?” Lauren had no answer, and she told Ellen, “You do sky writers and stuff. I can’t compete.” She was perhaps not completely wrong, as the host then started on her own story. Ellen began, “Whenever Portia has to go out of town and I’m not with her, I surprise her.”
Ellen went on, “I [called] the hotel and I set it up. They put a huge heart-shaped thing of rose petals on her bed. So, when she walks into the room, the whole bed is covered with a heart-shaped rose petal.” Lauren cheerfully answered, “Ellen, you’re a kabillionaire. You can do these things.”
The “sky writer” which Lauren was referring to is another romantic gesture Ellen has done for her wife – and vice versa. The two women have a habit of using sky writing to mark their wedding anniversaries. For example, in 2014 Portia hired a pilot to write “six” in the sky to mark the six years since they got hitched.
Ellen herself did something similar for the couple’s anniversary in 2018 – but with a more jokey twist. That day she wrote on Instagram, “Portia and I started dating 15 years ago today. I hired a plane to fly by the house with a banner that said 15 with a heart. I should have specified the size.” The plane’s banner was so small it could barely be seen.
Ellen and Portia are constantly doing incredibly romantic things for each other, it seems. And for the former’s 60th birthday, Portia gave her a special gift. She set up a whole wildlife fund in her wife’s name and arranged for a new building in Rwanda called “The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.”
While giving Ellen the present on her show, Portia told her wife, “It’s your 60th birthday and this gift had to be really special and it had to represent who you are and what you really care about. Not just now, but what you’ve always cared about. What you were influenced by and what has made you the amazing person that you are today.”
After getting her present, Ellen cried in front of the audience as she spoke about how much it meant to her. She said, “When we got married, Portia’s line was, ‘It’s good to be loved; it’s profound to be understood.’ And she understands me because that is the best gift that anybody could have given me.”
There is, however, a long list of romantic gestures in the story of Ellen and Portia’s relationship. Back in 2014 Ellen told People magazine, “The truth is, and this is corny, I fall more in love with Portia all the time. I really do. She surprises me all the time. She’s always wanted to play the cello, so for her birthday, I bought her a cello and had it custom-painted piano black so it was sexier.”
Ellen went on, “I thought it would just sit in her office and look really cool, but she plays it every single day. She’s so funny, really smart, talented and kind. I love her so much it kills me. What amazes me is that it never is boring. I make her laugh, but she really makes me laugh. It’s what anyone experiences when you find that person that gets you, wants to take care of you, wants the best for you.”
Another way Ellen and Portia keep their romance alive is by being there for each other whenever possible – despite the fact that both of them are incredibly busy women. In a 2017 interview with Good Housekeeping magazine, Ellen said that she and Portia always tried to eat dinner and watch TV together.
In the same interview Ellen said, “Portia understands me completely. In our vows, she recited a quote – ‘It is good to be loved. It is profound to be understood’ – and to me, that’s everything. What ‘I love you’ really means is ‘I understand you,’ and she loves me for everything that I am. She supports me and makes me happy.”
But things haven’t always been so rosy; Ellen and Portia faced some awful things before they were finally able to embark on their long-lasting relationship. While appearing on David Letterman’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction in 2019, Ellen mused on how much things had changed for both of them since the beginning. She said, “The divorce rumors came and then we really knew [that] perceptions had changed.”
Ellen explained, “I’m not kidding. I know it sounds ridiculous, but when that started happening, I thought, ‘Oh, now we’re finally accepted.’ We get the same s**t as every celebrity couple. I thought, ‘Wow, this is great that I’m pregnant, not pregnant, divorced, not divorced, whatever. That means there is an acceptance for this.’”
But those people eagerly waiting for there to be trouble in the Ellen-Portia marriage will probably have to wait a very long time to say the least. The pair seem to have a truly once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. They’ll be celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary in August 2020, and Ellen surely has something seriously romantic planned for then.