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After 'I Do': How 2 Prop 8 plaintiffs became symbols of the gay marriage fight

CITYHALLMARRIAGE - 1

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Jeff Zarrillo (L) and Paul Katami (R), plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case that overturned California's same-sex marriage ban, became the first gay couple to wed in Los Angeles since 2008 on Friday at City Hall. Outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa officiated the ceremony.

This segment is part one of Take Two's five-part series "After I Do," on the issues and challenges that LGBT people face beyond the gay marriage movement. Hear part two and part three here. 

One year ago this week, LGBT activists won an important victory at the U.S. Supreme Court when the justices struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and ushered in the demise of California's Proposition 8.

Two of the plaintiffs against Prop 8 were Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo of Burbank, who became two of the faces in the fight for same-sex marriage.

RELATED: Beyond gay marriage, what's the biggest issue facing LGBT community?

It all started with a 2009 political ad campaign made by the National Organization for Marriage, a group that opposed same-sex marriage, called, "Gathering Storm."

"Jeff had seen the ad first and he knew it would make me crazy," said Paul Katami on Take Two. "I stood up off the couch and I think my exact words: 'That's it. We're doing something.'"

The two assembled their friends and acquaintances to make their own response video called, "Weathering the Storm."

A moment of serendipity in the process led two of the featured gay men in that video to connect Zarrillo and Katami with Chad Griffin, a founder of the group to fight Proposition 8, American Foundation for Equal Rights.

The organization was looking for people who didn't get married during the window it was possible in California.

"We were thinking we were going into a meeting for something quite different," said Katami. "The first call we got was, 'We're looking to educate the public more on Proposition 8. We think you guys would be great spokespeople, would you please come to a meeting?'"

But to their surprise, they went a step further: AFER asked them if they would be plaintiffs in its legal challenge.

"When Paul came home from work one day," said Jeff Zarrillo. "Multiple times that day, people [in West Hollywood] had said, 'Oh, so you're a troublemaker.' Finally I raised my voice and said, 'You know what? At least we're doing something!'"

It was the start of a long legal process that they didn't realize would last years.

"When we first signed on, it was going to be a series of motions," said Katami. "There would be no testimony, there would be no witnesses, there would be no trial."

Several trials and four years later, Zarrillo and Katami got the verdict they were hoping for: the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's ruling that the supporters of Proposition 8 didn't have the legal standing to defend it.

Because the state of California also refused to defend the law, Prop 8 was history.

That was on a Wednesday, and the couple thought it would take 25 days (the maximum time a stay could be lifted) for the California courts to allow same-sex marriages to take place, again.

But Zarrillo says that on that Friday, "Sitting at my desk I get a text from Adam [Umhoefer], who's the executive director of AFER and he said, 'You need to call me.'"

It turns out the state was going to lift the stay that day, and so the couple rushed to the parking lot of the L.A. County registrar in Norwalk and walked in as soon as they got the green light for their license.

"It was a shotgun wedding!" said Zarrillo. "You can only imagine making that phone call to your mother who lives 3,000 miles away and saying, 'Mom, thanks for your support for the last 4-and-a-half years, but I'm going get married now. I'm sorry you can't be there.'"

On Saturday, June 28th, however, they'll be celebrating their first anniversary at the Beverly Hilton, and their family will definitely be there. Zarrillo adds, though, "As long as there are less than 50 states in this country without full federal equality, then there's work to be done."


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