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Berkeley couple at the center of historic fight over Proposition 8

Kristin Perry, left, and Sandy Stier, a couple challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage, plan to be in Washington for Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court arguments.


Kristin Perry, left, and Sandy Stier, a couple challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage, plan to be in Washington for Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court arguments.

BERKELEY, Calif. — Inside Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier's cozy, hillside bungalow, the signs of a typical domestic life are everywhere: photos of vacations and their four sons on the mantel and walls; snacks of Naan for their hungry teenager in the kitchen; "Moms Rock!" and "You can't scare me — I have children" magnets on the refrigerator.

But resting visibly on a coffee table are powerful reminders that this tableau of family life is unsettled, and that this same-sex couple of 13 years is set to make history next week as the legal battle over California's Proposition 8 heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There's a wedding album brimming with blissful pictures of their 2004 marriage at San Francisco City Hall — a marriage voided when the courts quickly blocked then-Mayor Gavin Newsom's rebellious, short-lived move to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. And next to the album is a bound legal brief filed earlier this year in the Supreme Court, signed by their famous lawyers, Theodore Olson and David Boies.

Getting married is unfinished business for Perry and Stier. And as the historic legal brief bearing their names suggests, they are now one of two couples at the center of the most contentious civil rights battle to reach the Supreme Court in decades, lead plaintiffs challenging California's right — and any state's right — to ban same-sex marriage.

As they prepare to jet to Washington, D.C., for Tuesday's arguments, Perry and Stier say they are ready to gain the right to marry and make another wedding album — this time one that will stick.

"It is a historic, once-in-a-lifetime experience," Perry told the San Jose Mercury News in an interview with Stier nestled by her side. "We're very fortunate to be there in person to witness it."

The Supreme Court will hear about an hour of arguments over Proposition 8, reviewing a federal appeals court's decision last year that found the state's 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

It is the latest, most significant development in their four-year quest to topple Proposition 8, which began when the Los Angeles-based American Foundation for Equal Rights enlisted Perry and Stier to be one of two couples to challenge the law. In short, they were recruited to be the face of the legal fight for same-sex marriage.

Their role was no accident. Perry had known Hollywood actor and director Rob Reiner for many years, meeting him in the late 1990s while working as a children's advocate. He was a leading backer of the new organization and the decision to sue to overturn Proposition 8, along with political activist Chad Griffin.

Perry and Stier recall now they were ready to take their fight to the courts, frustrated by the revocation of their marriage license in 2004.

Once their four boys, now ranging in age from 18 to 24, gave a thumbs-up to the decision to take the very public family step, Perry and Stier signed on.

Now, if they win in the Supreme Court and can marry, Perry jokes they'll be "newlywed empty nesters" because their twin high school seniors will be off to college soon. "It's changed us," Perry says of taking on the role of poster-couple for gay marriage. "We do see things on a bigger scale now."

Theodore Boutrous Jr., one of the lawyers in the case who interviewed couples with Griffin, said Perry and Stier provided the perfect story — a devoted couple with four children who'd already been stripped of a marriage opportunity.

"They understood what it would mean," he said. "They were so natural at explaining how it was to be discriminated against."

Gay marriage opponents have lined up against Perry, Stier and their arguments.

Asked what he would say to Perry and Stier, Randy Thomasson, president of and an outspoken gay marriage critic, replied: "No matter what one's feelings or friendships, if you don't have a man and a woman, you don't have marriage."

Perry and Stier say they've grown accustomed to such sentiments. Stier concedes "it's hard not to feel upset by it," but says at this point they are focused on the larger possibility of helping gay and lesbian couples marry.

"Our number one goal is overturning Proposition 8 in California," she said. "But the more people who can be positively impacted by this case, the better."

Berkeley couple at the center of historic fight over Proposition 8 03/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 9:46pm]
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