Standing at the podium at the back of the cavernous 19th century Cathedral of St. Vibiana in Downtown Los Angeles for the live Feb. 7 news conference on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional, Paul Katami choked up.
“The breaking point for me was when I said, ‘Today’s ruling is important to millions of people across the country—but it was also important to the young me, who hid who I was.’ I didn’t allow myself the dream—to think that one day I could wake up and be open about the person I love, let alone marry the person I love. And here I am a part of this process where we are being affirmed by the law—that we are equal and that there is this day that is coming soon that I can do that,” Katami told Frontiers on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, which he and partner Jeff Zarrillo celebrated quietly. “And it’s overwhelming, because as part of the gay community, it’s easy to push things aside and say, ‘I don’t want to worry about that now,’ because you might have to dig so deep that you actually feel the true damage that is being incurred when there is inequality.”
Too often Katami, Zarrillo and their Northern California co-plaintiffs in Perry v. Brown—Kris Perry and Sandy Stier—have been ascribed by the media supporting roles in the important legal and courtroom drama starring famous attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies and produced with aplomb by political consultant Chad Griffin, co-founder and board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, sponsors of the federal challenge to Prop. 8. But for Katami, Zarrillo, Perry and Stier, this reality show is their real lives. Indeed, they are regular people with regular jobs standing in for the hopes, dreams and longings of gay people everywhere.
The ruling was 2-1. “Ted Olson sat down with us and explained what the ruling was and that it was more of a narrow ruling,” Zarrillo said. “[The court] didn’t necessarily find the right to same-sex marriage, but said that once you give a right to a citizen, then you can’t take it away. That means it’s unconstitutional.”
“We were very happy and very excited because a win is a win. You win in the district court, you win in the 9th Circuit. It is a winning record,” Katami said. “It still affirms that marriage is a right and you cannot prohibit people from rights in this country.”
For the first time since the Prop. 8 challenge was filed May 22, 2009, family members spoke publicly. Spencer Perry—the teenage son of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier who is running to be the 65th Youth Governor of California in a program sponsored by the YMCA—was eloquent. “When Proposition 8 doesn’t allow parents like mine to marry, it isn’t just defining their love as taboo or wrong. It says that my family—that my brothers, that my mothers—shouldn’t belong and we don’t get to be the same as my friends’ families,” Perry said. “With this ruling, in the eyes of the government, my family is finally normal.”
Dominick Zarrillo, Jeff’s 66-year-old father, also spoke briefly at the news conference. Dominick Zarrillo and his wife of 43 years, Linda, 63, were in from New Jersey visiting their sons in Burbank when the ruling came down.
“My father gave a very important message to parents and grandparents who may be living in families with gays and lesbians who don’t really understand and only know what they learned growing up—that it was OK to discriminate,” Zarrillo said. “Seeing my father up there saying he was proud of his son and proud of his son-in-law and that everybody should be treated equally whether they’re gay or straight sends the message to the older demographic, similar to the way Spencer sent the message to the younger demographic.”
Zarrillo says they feel a sense of responsibility being part of the historic case. “One of our goals is being out there telling our story and the story of our community. Sometimes you see the light go on when you’re having a conversation with someone,” he says.
Katami also encourages gay people to get involved. “Don’t stand for second-class citizenship. You can make a difference in more ways than you think you can.”