While his parents were outside of the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., 18-year-old Berkeley resident Spencer Perry was on a tea plantation in South Carolina anxiously checking his cellphone. Spencer was waiting for a decision his family had been hoping for the past four years — a decision that would determine not only whether his mothers could legally wed but also whether they would win a historic Supreme Court case in their fight for marriage equality.
Spencer’s mother Kristin Perry served as a respondent in Hollingsworth v. Perry, in which the Supreme Court decided in a close 5-4 ruling to void a previous lower court trial on California’s Proposition 8 bill, which upheld the statewide ban on same-sex marriage. In lower court trials against Proposition 8, Perry was listed as a plaintiff in the case.
For the time being, the decision will allow Spencer’s parents and other same-sex couples to legally marry in the state of California but will not expand this right to other states.
The day was largely considered a victory for same-sex marriage activists, as the court also struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which said that the federal government could not overturn states’ decisions regarding the definition of marriage.
As Spencer saw the news pop up on his iPhone screen, he began to tear up.
“It’s out of this world — I’m kind of starstruck,” Spencer said. “This case alone has occupied all four years of my high school experience. A part of my growing up has been this case.”
For most of his childhood, Spencer was raised by three moms. Spencer’s moms Kristin Perry and Adrian-Ann McMurray separated when he and his twin brother, Elliott, were young. Soon after, Perry welcomed another mother into his family, Sandra Stier, along with two stepbrothers.
“For me, growing up, I never thought of my parents as being different,” Spencer said. “I never had that thought.”
Elliott joked that growing up without a dad, he had “a little bit of a hard time learning some of the manly stuff, like shaving,” but ultimately never felt set back by his parents’ relationship.
The Perry brothers attribute the ease of their childhood in part to the open-mindedness of their neighborhood of Albany — a tight-knit community with a strong liberal leaning. Instead of being considered strange or taboo, having same-sex parents was something the Perry brothers felt respected for.
This May, Albany High School chose to honor their moms for their commitment to LGBTQ rights, naming them civil rights activists.
“Around here, it’s not an odd thing to have families with same-sex parents,” said Sebastian de la Rosa, Perry’s YMCA Youth and Government adviser. “Since kids are around it more, and parents are around it more, and it’s not an abstract idea.”
It wasn’t until Spencer heard people argue against same-sex marriage, he said, that he came into contact with people who viewed his family as being “not normal.”
Spencer said he clearly remembers seeing a Prop. 8 advertisement on TV that warned of the supposed dangers of gay couples to children. “I kept thinking, ‘My parents would never harm a kid,’” he said. “My mom does more for children than most, so that was tough, watching those ads.”
In March, Spencer and his brother flew out to Washington, D.C., to support their moms at the oral argument for the case. He said he was shocked to hear some of the arguments made — such as that a same-sex parent environment could be harmful for a child.
During the oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia questioned the consequences of a single-sex parenting environment, citing single-sex parenting as having a possible “deleterious effect” on a child’s upbringing. This is in spite of an amicus brief filed by the American Sociological Association in February that argued that according to research, children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well as those raised by heterosexual parents.
When Spencer heard comments such as Scalia’s, he said he felt shocked.
“When they asked, ‘Is there any evidence to say children who have gay couples suffer?’, it really hit home,” Spencer said. “I wanted to jump up and say no.”
Spencer has kept a relatively low profile at high school regarding the case, but more recently, he has publicly supported his parents’ activism, speaking to the press at Supreme Court oral arguments and delivering a speech at a Human Rights Campaign conference in March.
About an hour after the decision, Spencer said that it is too early for him to declare an end to his parents’ push for same-sex marriage rights, as in many other states outside California, same-sex marriage remains illegal.
But for now, he has something to look forward to: his parents getting married again — legally — and this time, he says, hopefully for good.