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Supreme Court's Prop. 8 case: Big stakes for California

December 7, 2012 |  4:54 pm

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, have been waiting years to get married.

The Berkeley couple, who have raised four children together, could finally have held their wedding this month had the U.S. Supreme Court not agreed Friday to take up their case, in the process wading into the landmark civil rights issue.

Perry, 48, said another delay in the nuptials was a small price to pay.

Q&A: Prop. 8, gay marriage and the Supreme Court

“As much as Sandy and I want to be married, we want everyone ... in the United States to be able to be married,” Perry said. “We’ve learned how to be really patient and understanding of this process. What we ultimately wanted was the very biggest and broadest … and boldest outcome possible.”

California’s battle over gay marriage began nearly nine years ago when San Francisco allowed same sex unions just before Valentine’s Day, 2004, drawing thousands of couples to City Hall and making the state a flashpoint in the national debate.

Those marriages were invalidated. Then the California Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that same sex marriage was legal. But a few months later, California voters outlawed it by approving Proposition 8, which amended the Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

After that vote, Perry and Stier, along with another gay couple from Burbank, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, signed on as plaintiffs in Hollingsworth vs. Perry, beginning years of litigation that culminated Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in.

For gay marriage backers, the excitement of Prop. 8 going to the Supreme Court was tempered by nervousness about how the conservative majority would land on the issue. Had the court not taken the case, an earlier appeals court ruling invalidating Prop.8 would stand and marriages could have begun.

“I think any time our gay issues go to the U.S. Supreme Court we are all filled with anxiety because you never know,” said West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, who is gay. “Whatever decision they make, if it’s adverse, we have to live with it for a generation.”

MAP: How gay marriage has progressed in the U.S.

In a sign of hedging bets, some activists said they were now mulling a 2014 ballot measure to repeal Prop. 8 if the Supreme Court upholds it.

Gay marriage foes were decidedly more ebullient, saying they liked their chances in front of the high court.

“Arguing this case before the Supreme Court finally gives us a chance at a fair hearing, something that hasn’t been afforded to the people since we began this fight,” said Andy Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage.com.

Jim Campbell, the lead counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, another of the lawyers in the case, added in a statement that “marriage between a man and a woman is a universal good that diverse cultures and faiths have honored throughout the history of Western Civilization.”

Many the states’ top political leaders, from Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, issued a flurry of statements urging the Supreme Court to take the opposite view, and legalize marriage.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who kicked off the debate in California by marrying same sex couples when he was mayor of San Francisco, compared the case to Loving vs. Virginia, the 1967 court decision that permitted interracial couples to marry.

“Supreme Court here we come,” he tweeted.

For many gay people in California, however, the court’s action was felt more personally.

Dave Reynolds, 28, of Santa Monica, said he married his husband in August in New York, where same sex unions are legal, after they grew tired of waiting for marriage to come to California.

Reynolds and his husband, JJ Shepherd, 31, first met as kids at summer camp. They would have preferred to have a wedding in California.

“No one cries at civil unions or a domestic partnership. No one cries at signing a document at the courthouse. They cry at weddings,” Reynolds said.

Perry and Stier hope they will have their turn soon.

“We are full of anticipation today,” Perry said. “We are elated with the possiblity of great things happening.”

--Jessica Garrison, Ashley Powers and Matt Stevens