Gay Couple Share What It’s Like to Be Denied the Right to Marry

kris perry, sandy stierImagine getting a letter in the mail informing you that your marriage was no longer legal. That under the eyes of the law, your union simply doesn't exist anymore. For most of us, that seems like a total impossibility; however, that is precisely what happened to Kris Perry and Sandy Stier. Though they say Proposition 8 didn't just ban gay marriage in California, it also meant they were second class citizens. It meant their love didn't matter.

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They were one of two California couples who took the fight against Prop 8 all the way to the Supreme Court. Little did they know, their battle would not only change their lives, but the lives of gay people all across the country. Kris and Sandy, along with Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, became the faces of the landmark case, which was chronicled in the HBO film The Case Against 8. The couple spoke with The Stir about the struggle and what it means for all of us.

What was it like receiving that form letter in the mail saying that your marriage was now legally invalid? 

Sandy: To be told by somebody that you can’t be married, it’s as though you’re a little child who’s not worthy, or not old enough, or not responsible enough to make a decision like that.

You both had two teenage boys going into this. Did you talk to them about it before you became a part of the case? 

Sandy: Thanks for asking that question because that was a really important part of the process for us. It was a family decision but it was made one by one. The reason is we approached each child individually because we wanted to give them a chance to say what they thought without feeling in any way like they had to hide their feelings because of the presence of the other kids. We didn’t want them to feel like majority rules because if any person had said they weren’t supportive or comfortable with it, we would have declined being plaintiffs in the case. It has an impact on them and we didn’t want to force something on them that they didn’t feel like they had a voice in. The great thing is that we were worried and spent time deliberating it, but once we talked to the boys, they were all very quick in their response.

Did you have any idea of the magnitude of this case?

Sandy: None of us understood how big it would end up becoming and what a significant thing it would be in our lives for the next five years.

Were you surprised how deeply you were vetted by the lawyers who headed the case?

Sandy: We didn’t ever want to be a risky proposition, so if anybody had said there is something in your past that we see as a blemish, we would have said ok, we want it to be successful, so by all means find somebody else. I have been married before so we knew that that was a potential problem and we’re very open and honest about it. We’re a blended family, so we didn’t have a kind of very perfect background that I think people might have anticipated that they would look for. Even still, they felt like we were a good pick.

Were you bothered by the negative reactions you received?

Kris: The one worrisome part of that process was when the nasty calls were coming to the house, and the kids were picking up the phone, and that was hitting them first hand. It wasn’t as if it happened to Sandy and me and they were watching it secondhand or hearing about it at the end of the day. It was kind of hitting all of us at the same time, and that I really found difficult.

How did the kids take that?

Kris: It didn’t change their level of support, I think it probably increased their engagement and their awareness around all of it and what it meant and made them more alert and a little bit protective even of us. We would come home at dusk or dark, and they would say, "It’s ok, let’s go." They kind of took on a slightly more adult role as a result, and of course they got so much older. They could become more and more cognitively and emotionally aware of what was going on. I think they were old enough to process the court system, what judges do, what lawyers do, and what police do. All of it became easier to understand than if they were really little.

Did the case, in a sense, take over your lives?

Sandy: No. There were months when there was little going on with the case. The two youngest were still at home, but they were busy high school students. They had a ton of activities going on -- sports, student government, music, an internship. We were just going to work every day, going to parent meetings, and the boys were applying to college that last year, so there was SAT prep and college visits. We were swamped with all of that and just kind of kept going with our lives. 

When things got tense with the case, how did you cope?

Sandy: It was a difficult time but it was actually kind of a bonding experience. We really went through it together, and we met a whole new group of people and worked on a whole new thing together, and that’s different from other parts of our lives. Our careers are very separate and distinct, we don’t know each other’s work colleagues all that well, and we each have our own biological children with different extended relatives. This was the one thing that we really did together from the beginning to the end.

Some people take offense to the comparisons of this to the Civil Rights Movement. What do you think about that?

Kris: It doesn’t surprise me that people have a hard time making the leap because it’s a different identity fight that they were having. Ours is one that people have argued is a choice or can be fixed. Unlike folks who are facing racial discrimination, when you’re gay, you’re often the only person in your family who is gay. You are different from your family as well as mainstream society. It’s a really different kind of civil rights fight. I do see why it’s hard, and at the same time, those are human rights, they’re attributed to all of us regardless of our identities. I think what I love about this is it’s expanding the view I hope people have about civil rights. It’s more than a racial equality fight, it can be many other things.

How has this case changed you?

Kris: I think we feel more firmer than ever before around the issue and how important equality is in every state in this country. We really look at those rights closely and we know more than we ever did before, having been through the trial, what that discrimination is doing to couples, families, and children around the country. No one deserves that.

You can find information about the film at HBO.com. To learn more about the fight to legalize gay marriage across the country, go to gaymarriage.procon.org or freedomtomarry.org.

 

 See the Case Against 8 trailer:

 

 

Image via Demis Maryannakis / Splash News

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