Prop 8 suit emboldens plaintiffs
The indignities she faced growing up due to her sexual orientation often went overlooked by Kristin Perry. Rather than focus on the inequality and injustice that came with her being a lesbian, Perry allowed such discrimination to fade into the background.
"At a young age I learned to sublimate feelings of difference and inferiority and, instead, attempt to be positive and productive. It got me to this point where I wasn’t as upset, angry, and dissatisfied as I should have been," said Perry. "My coping mechanism was to not focus on the bad things."
Today, the 46-year-old Berkeley resident is no longer so willing to be treated as a second-class citizen. Her inability to accept the status quo has been one of the outcomes from the decision she and her partner, Sandra Stier, made back in 2009 to become one of two plaintiff couples to challenge Proposition 8, California’s ban against same-sex marriage, in federal court.
"I feel like my tolerance level is so much lower now to the discrimination I am facing," said Perry. "I was very good at letting it all roll off my back, and maybe, a little too good."
Three years into the ongoing legal battle, Perry told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent interview that she no longer so easily accepts being treated unfairly.
"The whole process has helped me to become less tolerant with the discrimination I have experienced my entire life," said Perry, a former child abuse investigator who is executive director of First 5 California, a state agency focused on child services.
The same is true for Stier, 48, the information technology director for the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services Agency. She, too, struggles with her family’s sub par legal standing under the law.
"I never used to feel this aggravated. Now, I feel mad all the time," said Stier, who with Perry, is raising twin 16-year-old boys and two sons in their 20s.
Yet their indignation only goes so far. The women remain euphoric over the ruling issued last August by now retired U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker that Prop 8 is unconstitutional and are optimistic his decision will not be overturned on appeal. It is currently before a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court by late 2012 or early 2013.
"We are very optimistic people," said Stier. "Going into the case we were confident."
Nor has their relationship suffered, they said, despite the media glare on their lives and the public attention the case has brought to their family.
"Sandy and I really like each other," said Perry, noting they have been together for a decade now. "We are having a lot of fun in our relationship."
Since Walker issued his ruling, the women have made themselves more available to the press for interviews. They said they purposefully refrained from talking with the media during the nearly three-week-long trial in January 2010 and the eight-month-long wait for a ruling.
"We wanted the focus to be on the legal aspects of the case, not on the personal," explained Stier.
Perry added that their story is no different from the myriad same-sex couples denied marriage rights under Prop 8.
"We fell in love. We built a family. We went to work. We paid our taxes. And we were told we can’t be married. That is our story," she said.
They remain protective of revealing their sons’ names after being harassed by Gregory Lee Giusti, the person who pleaded guilty to also threatening House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and is serving time in federal prison.
"Nothing bad resulted from the trial itself with the kids," said Perry.
As for themselves, the women said they felt "a weight had lifted" once Walker released his ruling and felt freer to talk publicly about the case.
"We wanted the legal process to be the focus, not Sandy and I," said Perry, who along with Stier, now talks with reporters and sits down for interviews after the latest court proceeding. "I am sorry we did not feel comfortable enough to do that earlier."
Their main focus, however, continues to be on each other and their family.
"The lawsuit is a big deal but definitely not the biggest deal in our lives. Our real lives are about our relationship and the kids," said Stier. "We both have real careers. We have a lot to focus on. The case is very interesting but is not front and center. It was for those three weeks, for sure, but that is it."
They remain unsure of what their plans will be when they can legally marry in California.
"We will get married. But we have four kids and four colleges, we aren’t going to have a big splashy wedding," said Stier.
They already had their own private wedding ceremony with family and friends on August 1, 2004. It was the second time they had exchanged vows. They first said "I do" to each other in February of that year at San Francisco City Hall during what was known as the "Winter of Love," when city officials flouted state law and married same-sex couples. The California state Supreme Court later annulled the weddings.
Having gone through that experience, the women opted not to remarry in the summer of 2008 prior to the passage of Prop 8. They did not want to plan another marriage ceremony only to see it too be later ruled invalid.
"We thought about it. We just didn’t want to do it again until it was really permanent," said Stier.