For plaintiffs in court case, parenthood trumps politics

Sandy Stier (left) and Kris Perry are two of the plaintiffs in a same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court.
Jeff Chiu/associated Press
Sandy Stier (left) and Kris Perry are two of the plaintiffs in a same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court.

BERKELEY, Calif. — Big change is coming to the lives of the lesbian couple at the center of the fight for same-sex marriage in California no matter how the Supreme Court decides their case.

After 13 years of raising four boys together, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier are about to be empty nesters. Their youngest two children, 18-year-old twins, will graduate from high school in June and head off to college a couple of months later.

‘‘We’ll see all the movies, get theater season tickets because you can actually go,’’ Stier said in the living room of their bungalow in Berkeley. Life will not revolve quite so much around food, and the challenge of putting enough of it on the table to feed teenagers.


They might also get married, if the high court case goes their way.

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Perry, 48, and Stier, 50, spoke recently about their Supreme Court case, the evolution of their activism for gay rights, and family life.

On Tuesday, they plan to be in the courtroom when their lawyer, Theodore Olson, tries to persuade the justices to strike down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages and to declare that gay couples can marry nationwide.

Supporters of California’s Proposition 8, represented by lawyer Charles Cooper, argue that the court should not override the democratic process and impose a judicial solution that would redefine marriage in California and 40 states that do not allow same-sex couples to wed.

A second Supreme Court case, which will be heard Wednesday, involves the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prevents same-sex couples who are legally married from receiving a range of federal tax, pension, and other benefits that otherwise are available to married people.


A line has formed outside the court for people who want to attend the hearings. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg said people began lining up Thursday.

Perry and Stier, along with Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo of Burbank, agreed four years ago to be the named plaintiffs — and the public faces — of a well-funded, high-profile effort to challenge Proposition 8 in the courts.

‘‘For the past four years, we’ve lived our lives in this hurry-up-and-wait, pins-and-needles way,’’ Perry said, recalling the crush of court deadlines and the seemingly endless wait for rulings from a federal district judge, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the California Supreme Court.

Stier said Olson told them the case could take several years to resolve. ‘‘I thought, years?’’ she said.

But the couple has been riding a marriage rollercoaster since 2003, when Perry first asked Stier to marry her. They were planning a symbolic, but not legally recognized, wedding when Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco ordered city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004.


So they were married, but only briefly. Six months later, the state Supreme Court invalidated the same-sex unions. They went ahead with their plans anyway, but ‘‘it was one of the sadder points of our wedding,’’ Perry said.

‘For the past four years, we’ve lived our lives in this hurry-up-and-wait, pins-and-needles way.’

Kris Perry, talking about the couple’s court fight 

Less than four years later, however, the same state court overturned California’s prohibition on same-sex unions. Then, on the same day Perry and Stier rejoiced in President Obama’s election, voters approved Proposition 8, undoing the court ruling and defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Their lawsuit was filed six months later, after they went to the Alameda County courthouse for a marriage license and were predictably refused.

Neither woman defined herself as a gay rights activist before the marriage fight.

Perry, a native Californian from Bakersfield, and Stier, who grew up in rural Iowa, moved in together in 2000, with Stier’s two children from a heterosexual marriage and Perry’s from a previous relationship.

Perry has spent her professional life advocating on behalf of early-childhood education. Stier works for the county government’s public health department.

Utterly conventional school meetings, soccer games, and band practice — not the court case — have defined their lives together.

Perry said the boys find her useful for two basic reasons these days. ‘‘Do I have any headphones and do I have any money,’’ she said with a smile.