HRC Statement on Prop 8 Lawyer Charles Cooper’s Support for His Openly Gay Daughter

by Charles Joughin

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today reacted to news that Charles J. Cooper, the chief legal defender of Proposition 8 for the duration of the Perry case, has an openly gay stepdaughter named Ashley and that Cooper and his wife, Debbie, are helping to plan Ashley’s upcoming wedding to her partner of several years.

The news was disclosed in the upcoming book, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jo Becker.

“I spent the better part of five years sitting across courtroom aisles from Mr. Cooper, disagreeing with just about every word that came out of his mouth, but I have profound respect for his decision to love and celebrate his daughter and her fiancée because his story reflects the experience of so many of the 90 percent of Americans who personally know someone who is LGBT," said HRC President Chad Griffin.

In Becker’s book, Debbie Cooper cites Perry plaintiff couple Kris Perry and Sandy Stier as potential role models for her daughter. Perry and Stier issued the following statement:

"We were so moved to hear of the Cooper family's constant love and support of their own daughter, even as the Perry case was in full swing and Mr. Cooper was spending his days planning Prop 8's defense. Some may find this contrast between public and private jarring, but in our opinion, loving an LGBT child unequivocally is the single most important thing any parent can do. We are overjoyed for Ashley and her fiancée, and we wish them the very best."

A veteran of the Reagan Justice Department and a self-described, “unrepentant and avowed originalist,” Charles Cooper is widely known as one of the nation’s top conservative civil litigators. According to Becker’s book, when Cooper first agreed to defend Prop 8 in 2009, he was not yet aware of Ashley’s sexual orientation, though his wife was. 

When Ashley did come out to Cooper while the Perry case was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, he reportedly did not hesitate in his support or question the revelation in the slightest.  Cooper acknowledges that several of his children disagree with him on the marriage issue, and that his own views are still evolving. His legal views are still deeply rooted in constitutional originalism, but he was reminded during the emotional plaintiff testimony in the Perry trial why this was such an “agonizingly difficult issue” for many.

When the Perry case was finally resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court last June and gay and lesbian couples began marrying in California once more, Cooper was shocked, but when he saw Perry and Stier marry on television in San Francisco City Hall, “at a personal, human level, I rejoiced in their happiness,” he said. 

His own daughter’s wedding is slated for this June.

Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality by Jo Becker is due out April 22nd and is published by The Penguin Press.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.


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