By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Though it denies the full rights of marriage to gay couples, California does allow civil unions, and in 2001, Tyler and Olson applied for and received a Los Angeles domestic-partnership license. Then in 2006, they acquired California domestic-partnership status, the many benefits of which are virtually equal to those enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, and which even allows gay couples to file jointly on their state tax returns. However, there are some rights that even California's progressive domestic-partnership benefits don't match.
On February 10, 2004, with Tyler's retirement creeping up, a representative of her union, AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), informed her that although medical benefits were offered to same-sex domestic partners of members who were still working, after retirement these benefits would cease, even though Tyler was otherwise "vested" or qualified to receive full retirement benefits. This meant that Olson, 11 years Tyler's junior, would be ineligible to receive health coverage from the union after Tyler's retirement at 65 — a privilege granted to the spouses who are under 65 of vested heterosexual union members.
"When I asked the union rep why that was," remembers Tyler, "she told me, 'You have to be married. That's just the way it is, hon.'"
In June 2006, AFTRA reversed its stance, approving full health benefits for the partners of its eligible gay retirees. (AFTRA also agreed to provide COBRA benefits for the partners of vested gay members, the first entertainment union to do so.) But at the time, the union rep's answer did not sit well with Tyler, and she just happened to know a lawyer who agreed with her.
"Actual friends," says Tyler, "not Hollywood friends. We know each other's families and see each other socially."
If Tyler had to be married to earn her benefits, then married she would be. Allred agreed to take her case pro bono, and on the morning of February 12, 2004, hours before Gavin Newsom temporarily legalized gay marriage in San Francisco, Tyler and Olson, along with Perry and De Bliek (who were married in Canada in 2003, and sued for the right to have their marriage legally recognized in the U.S.) gathered with Allred on the steps of the Beverly Hills Courthouse to announce their intention to sue Los Angeles County for the right to marry.
In the fall of 1968, Troy Perry sat in the bathtub of his Los Angeles apartment, watching the blood flow from his wrists into the warm water around him. No one loved him, he imagined, not even God. He was a preacher without a congregation.
For as long as he could remember, Perry had been preaching. As a boy growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, in the '40s and early '50s, he would preside over funerals for all the dead bugs and critters he and his siblings could find. A licensed Baptist minister by the age of 15, Perry married his own minister's daughter in 1959 and, three years later, moved to Santa Ana, California, to become pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy. Though he loved his work and cared for his family, he knew that there was something inside him that was different.
"Back then, there really was no 'gay,'" explains Perry, with a lingering Southern lilt. "To engage in a homosexual act was considered the sin of a heterosexual man. A 'queer' was someone who was a sissy, and I knew I wasn't that. So I would sin, then come back to ask God for forgiveness and then sin again."
After an affair with a Marine became public, however, church officials stripped Perry of his pastorship. Perry and his wife divorced, and she took off with the couple's two sons. He wouldn't see them again for 17 years.
Perry was subsequently drafted into the military — an ironic twist now, in the "don't ask, don't tell" era — and spent the next two years serving in Germany.
Upon his return to Los Angeles, Perry met a man — and fell in love for the very first time. But the relationship ended badly after only six months. "I treated him like the little wifey," says Perry, "but he was a man. He didn't like that at all. Back then, I didn't know any better."
The heartache was too much. Everything he cared about had been taken away — his congregation, his family, his new love: "In my mind, I had nothing to live for."
It was then that Perry climbed into the bathtub with a razorblade and slit his own wrists. Just as he began to lose consciousness, two of his friends burst through the door to save his life. At the hospital, dizzy from blood loss, Perry suddenly began to pray to God. He received a response.
"God talked to me," remembers Perry. "He told me, 'I don't have stepsons and stepdaughters.' I knew then that I was a Christian and an openly gay male, and that it was going to be okay."
Weeks later, after he had recovered, Perry contacted the Advocate about running an advertisement for a gay church service. "They didn't want to run the ad at first," he says. "But then I went down to their office and started preaching the Gospel, and I convinced them that I was for real."