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Twelve people showed up that first week. By the next service, that number doubled, and soon tripled. Thus the Metropolitan Community Church was born in Los Angeles, and Perry has never looked back, giving religious guidance to the gay community while using his pulpit to advocate gay civil rights.
Perry and the MCC were the progenitors of gay marriage in America. In 1969, two years before Baker and McConnell would marry in Minnesota, Perry presided over the "holy union" of two women, Neva Heckman and Judith Belew. Though not legally recognized by the state, theirs was the first public, openly gay marriage in the history of the United States. (There are reports of black lesbian couples in 1920s Harlem covertly obtaining marriage licenses by having a butch partner pass as a man.) Perry has been performing holy unions ever since, and he has watched MCC spread to 300 congregations in 26 countries. "We have churches from Uruguay to Nigeria," says Perry, "and each one of them performs holy unions."
His own union, however, would have to wait more than three decades.
The "inescapable truth,"Kenneth Starr recently told the San Francisco Chronicle, is that "children need their mothers and fathers, and that society needs mothers and fathers to raise their children. We have seen at close range the enormous benefits that traditional male-female marriage imparts."
Starr, who recently argued against same-sex marriage in a brief submitted to the California Supreme Court on behalf of a coalition of religious groups, has obviously never met Phillip De Bliek.
"I don't know who these benefactors are that folks are talking about," says De Bliek, "because it certainly wasn't me."
De Bliek was born to a family of Louisiana Southern Baptists in 1965 and raised in the small desert town of Joshua Tree, California. His father left home the night he was conceived.
"My father had the habit of running around with other women, and my mother wasn't the type of woman to take it. She told him, 'You can stay married to me or you can have these other girls.' So he left."
When De Bliek was 2, his mother remarried and his stepfather adopted him. Instead of providing stability for the family, though, his stepfather abused De Bliek throughout his childhood.
After an incident with a male P.E. teacher exposed De Bliek as gay at the age of 14, he was virtually run out of the small desert community. "I was pretty much labeled a 'faggot,' and it was strongly suggested that I no longer attend the school I was going to in Twentynine Palms."
At 16, De Bliek ran away from home and moved to Los Angeles by himself. Amazingly, he was able to put himself through high school, working nights in a restaurant. "I was incredibly lucky I never got into drugs or prostitution or what some people have to do to survive in those types of scenarios."
De Bliek immersed himself in Los Angeles' gay scene and found the freedom liberating. Shortly after his 21st birthday, at the leather bar The Gauntlet, De Bliek saw a man with striking blue eyes looking at him from across the room. He went over and introduced himself. That man was Troy Perry, who, even more than two decades ago, was a legend in the gay community.
Perry was completely entranced by the handsome and slightly naive De Bliek. "He had absolutely no idea who I was," Perry says, "which was the biggest turn-on."
Perry played it cool: "I told Phillip, 'I'm going to give you my number one time, just once, and you call me in two weeks.' Then I walked out of the bar."
De Bliek did call, and he and Perry have lived in Silver Lake together for the past 23 years.
"We have our own lives, and the life we share," says De Bliek. "We have our own friends, and the friends we share. I think that's why we've been able to get along this well for so many years."
Ironically, considering all the deities that are invoked in decrying his lifestyle choice, it was finding a same-sex life partner that connected him to God.
"I am a much more spiritual person because of Troy," says De Bliek. "I have a personal relationship with God that I would have never had if Troy hadn't entered my life."
In 2003, after the local Toronto congregation of the Metropolitan Community Church successfully sued the Canadian government to legalize gay marriage, Perry and De Bliek rushed north. "It has always been my dream to be legally married," says Perry, "and as soon as I had that chance, Phillip and I took it. We didn't wait a second."
When the couple returned from Canada, Perry considered suing the state of California immediately to have their marriage recognized. With the 2004 presidential election approaching, though, "A lot of gay groups felt it was too soon," says Perry. "So I waited."
But when Tyler and Gloria Allred came to Perry in 2004, asking him to join them in their effort to sue Los Angeles County for the right to marry or, as in his case, to have his Canadian marriage recognized, the decision was a no-brainer. "I come from a Pentecostal background, so when I heard the words 'Gloria Allred' and 'pro bono,' I said that's as close to speaking in tongues as I need."