News & Politics

Coming Out to the Supreme Court: Documentary Airs Tonight on Prop 8


Go to your television right now and watch this.

HBO will premiere a documentary tonight at 9 p.m. EST called The Case Against Prop 8 which traces the 5-year journey of two same-sex couples who took their case against California’s “Prop 8” marriage ban all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

I had the opportunity to preview this excellent documentary over the weekend while writing an article for BlogHer that ran earlier today. On Saturday, I also had the opportunity to talk to the lesbian couple, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, two of the four plaintiffs in the case, about this experience that changed their lives and created a strong bond between them and the other two plaintiffs Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo, and their lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies.

In addition to being a well-crafted review of the social and legal history of the case, the movie is a subtle but powerful coming out story that involved personal transformation for both Kris and Sandy.

When California’s Proposition 8 passed in 2008, the lesbian couple was already out and married. But shortly thereafter, they received a letter from the State of California that revoked their marriage license and offered them a refund of their registration fee.

“What did we do wrong?”  Sandy said, about receiving the letter. She felt slapped in the face. How would they tell their family and friends, especially those who had been at their wedding, that they were now unmarried against their will?

“It’s not very explainable,” she said. Usually when a civil right is taken away, a citizen has violated a traffic law or hurt someone.

For Kris, the idea that a civil right that she was already enjoying was now revoked spurred her to action.

“I realized that I was living under this blanket of homophobia,” she says in the film. And the more involved she became in fighting Prop 8, the more she began to understand that the “cumulative pain” of homophobia is “very significant.” It was a type of death by a thousand cuts.

“I had learned how to deal with homophobia so well that I didn’t realize I was dealing with it anymore,” she said on Saturday. “Because of the film, I had the benefit of talking about the experience and coming in touch with how hard it was.”

In the movie, the plaintiffs describe how they felt when Prop 8 passed in 2008. They were so elated by the election of the first black president and shocked by the anti-gay amendment that it took a few weeks for the reality to sink in.

Pam, my own partner, remembers feeling the same way during the Clinton/Gore election that also brought Colorado’s Amendment 2 along for ride in 2002. She looked around and couldn’t believe people, her friends, voted for it. Amendment 2 in Colorado outlawed treating LGBT people as a “protected class” which effectively undid any protection against hate crimes, making it easier to evict gays and lesbians from their homes and deny us employment rights.

Kris is a children’s rights advocate who works as the Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund, a non-profit organization that lobbies the federal government to increase funding for pre-kindergarten-aged children. Sandy works as a Director for a health care services agency. They have four boys, all of whom have graduated from high school.

“We weren’t selected (to be witnesses in the case) because we were parents or lesbians, but because we wanted to do something,” said Kris. Being seen and connected as a female leaders was also important in positioning the two of them to be involved.

And there were other female leaders who were not in the film that were instrumental to the case, such as Therese Stewart, Chief Deputy Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco.

“A lot of attention has been paid to the male lawyers and the male pundits, but there is a special role that women have played,” said Kris. She sees DOMA and the overturning of Prop 8 as not only a win for gays and lesbians, but a win for women, because redefining marriage equity redefines gender equity, as well.

Read more about the film’s civil right implications

Watch Kris and Sandy get a call from The President


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