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Journey Down the Aisle

By Kari Santos | Jun. 2, 2014

Law Office Management

Jun. 2, 2014

Journey Down the Aisle

The lead plaintiffs in Perry took their fight for marriage equality all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

My wife Kris Perry and I met in 1996 when we were both working at a human services agency in Oakland. After many months of friendship, we fell in love. Eventually, we joined our East Bay households, along with our kids from previous relationships. We were a "Brady bunch" of sorts: two moms and four boys.

In February 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that San Francisco was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, we excitedly rushed to City Hall, boys in tow, for the nuptials. Six months later we had a more formal wedding with all the trimmings: dresses, tuxedos, a buffet and a bar, violins for the ceremony, and a DJ for dancing. Most important, though, was the support of our family and friends.

Shortly after our honeymoon, a hurtful surprise arrived at our door: a formal letter stating that our marriage was no longer valid: The California Supreme Court had rendered all the San Francisco same-sex marriages void.

In May 2008 we took heart when the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, but the following November voters approved Proposition 8. Our good friend Chad Griffin asked us to be plaintiffs in a federal challenge. With the support of our kids, we agreed to attach our names to this case, along with a couple from Burbank, Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami. We went to court the following year with our lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies and their legal team, expecting to sit quietly on the sidelines and await summary judgment. The day Judge Vaughn R. Walker ordered a full trial, the game changed for all of us.

Preparing for that trial was emotionally grueling. We practiced for inquiries during cross-examination, like: "Are you sure you're gay?" or "How gay are you?" At one point, tears welled up in Ted's eyes as he listened to us talk about the discrimination we'd faced.

When the trial began in January 2010 we had front-row seats in Judge Walker's courtroom. Kris and I described the humiliation we felt when we received the letter invalidating our marriage. We talked about the hurtfulness of the Prop. 8 propaganda. We talked about our love. Our kids. Our lives. Ourselves.

When the opposing counsel declined to cross-examine me and Kris, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and sat back to watch. A highlight was David Blankenhorn, the star witness put forth by the Prop. 8 proponents, admitting that our country would be more American once we had marriage equality. And we relished Ted Olson explaining, in his closing argument, the defense's lack of evidence.

"You are discriminating against a group of people. ... You are excluding them from an important part of life. And you have to have a good reason for that," Olson said. "And I submit, at the end of the day, 'I don't know' and 'I don't have to present any evidence,' with all due respect to [opposing counsel Charles] Cooper, does not cut it."

When Judge Walker ruled in our favor the following summer, we were overjoyed. Then our case wound its way through the appellate process, and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court in March of 2013. We donned our business-casual finest and took time off from work to stay in Washington, D.C., hoping to be present when the Court ruled.

And we were. On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013)), and dismissed our case on standing grounds (Hollingsworth v. Perry, 133 S.Ct. 2652 (2013)). Though we had hoped for a ruling on the merits of the case, it was still a jubilant and unforgettable moment in our lives. As we descended the grand steps of the Court to the cheers of the huge crowd of supporters outside (and of course, a few protesters), we felt the weight of those who'd paved the way, and the promise of the future.

Two days later Kris and I were finally legally married at San Francisco City Hall, near the very spot where we'd had our "first" wedding nearly ten years earlier. As she gently placed a final wedding band on my finger, we recited our vows. I do. I do. I do.

Sandy Stier and her wife Kris Perry were the lead plaintiffs in the Prop. 8 case. They live in Oakland with their children.


Kari Santos

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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