Fighting Prop 8 Taught Us Never to Take Our Rights for Granted

We made it through the first fight for marriage equality. Here's our advice for those whose rights are again in jeopardy.

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May 8 2017, 10:27pm

Perry and Stier head to trial. Photo courtesy Roaring Forties Press

In 2009, a bipartisan legal dream team sent a lesbian couple into a California county clerk's office to be denied a marriage license. That deliberate act propelled Kris Perry and Sandy Stier to the front lines of LGBTQ activism, making them two of the four lead plaintiffs in Hollingsworth v. Perry—the lawsuit that eventually voided Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. They would provide some of the most emotional testimony of the dramatic 2010 trial in San Francisco and remained in the spotlight as the US Supreme Court considered the case in 2013.

And though Perry v. Hollingsworth did not lead to same-sex marriage nationally, the dramatic Prop 8 trial captured many imaginations, inspiring 8, a play by Dustin Lance Black, the HBO documentary The Case Against 8, and the books Forcing the Spring and Redeeming the Dream.

Tomorrow, finally, Perry and Stier themselves will publish their own take. In Love on Trial, they write their tale of middle-aged moms swept up in a heady, historic moment. Long seen as two parts of a single unit, the book's purpose is partly to "distinguish our history and our perspective" as individuals, Perry said.

We spoke with the couple about how the 2016 election changed their book's ending, their advice for those fighting on the front lines of LGBTQ equality today, and more.

VICE: Two years ago, Kris told the Washington Blade you were tired of telling your story so much. Now it's a book. What changed there?
Sandy Stier: Our story, we felt, is most often told for the purpose of some other thing. We decided people might be interested in what it's like to be in our shoes.

Kris Perry: Our publisher saw that Blade article and wrote me an email and said, "I couldn't help but think you should write a book." She was serious. The case became this third entity that sat on top of us. It permeated everything. We became something different after going through all that.

There's no place in this book where you describe the two of you fighting. I've been married a long time, so I don't buy that. Is there pressure to appear like the perfect couple?
We could have written a huge amount about conflicts, what they were about and how we resolved them. There's no shame in saying there have been many fights. They've been about money, parenting, personality differences, who controls what when.

Stier: There were plenty of times when we were very stressed out and at each other's throats. I often wanted to get out of public things. We developed a code for when we were doing interviews where I would squeeze Kris' hand or give her a look which meant, "You have to take these questions right now. I don't want to do it." There were a couple times when I said I wished we could get out of this whole thing, I didn't want to do it anymore. We kind of allude to that a little bit when my kids were in high school, especially one of them was a real handful. At times I felt like it was hard to walk around acting like the perfect, most happy family and couple when I have this kid who's giving me grief constantly.

What advice do you have for people at the forefront of legal battles for LGBTQ rights today, like Gavin Grimm?
Appreciate the incredible work the people around you are doing. We benefited from the work of people we never met, people from a different generation who weren't even alive when we were going through this. California and the courts could not have been ready for our case were it not for the many, many actions of many other people. It's important to not get caught up in whatever glory there is for yourself. I always thought, "We've done our part but our part is not really so much more important than somebody else's part. It's just getting all the attention right now."

You end of the book on a dark note, describing what the legal strategy could be in this era to get the Supreme Court to reconsider and undo their 2015 ruling. But in his Senate hearings, Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said gay marriage is settled law. Does that comfort you?
Not at all. That's a political statement. There's a lot of energy to undo gay marriage and equal LGBTQ rights in general. We changed the ending of our book after the election. Before that, we had a more upbeat ending—"this is how civil rights can be won, we're making progress as a country, we have to keep up the fight." After the election, we really re-examined how to end on a more authentic note. Which is that we're happy about this but do not take it for granted.

Throughout the book, you reference friends, relatives and co-workers who distanced themselves during the trial and Supreme Court appeal because of homophobia or discomfort with your fame. Anybody apologize or try to reconcile?
There weren't apologies. There were, in particular with family, slow and subtle reconciliations. And they're not in the book. I took great strides to not embarrass anybody in my family. There were many times with siblings where there were offenses, and I'd just try to talk through those. I'd say, "I'm really upset about this thing you said" or "I'm really upset about the things you never said," like, you know, words like "congratulations." If that's never said, that's offensive. Relationships tend to mend, but it's not in one fell swoop. It's a series of acknowledgements or understandings or kindnesses that take place over time.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Follow Steve Friess on Twitter.

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