Standing on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, the scene was exactly what Paul Katami and his partner, Jeff Zarrillo, had hoped for when they started their journey more than three years ago.
The highest court in the land had just delivered a one-two punch in support of gay rights, striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act while turning away the defenders of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that prevented the Burbank couple from marrying in 2009.
Together with a lesbian couple from Berkeley — Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier — they had formed the set of plaintiffs who would bring the issue of same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court and prevail.
"Today is a great day to be American," Zarrillo said to a throng of reporters outside the court.
Hours later, the couple would be on a flight back to Los Angeles. A celebration was being planned in West Hollywood. There were victory celebrations galore starring "Katami Zarrillo Perry Stier and Co."
In a brief call to a phone that was put on speaker and carried live on MSNBC, President Obama told all four plaintiffs from Air Force One: "We're proud of you guys."
Just before the call ended, Katami told Obama: "You're invited to the wedding."
The scene would have seemed far out of reach just three years ago as Zarrillo gave tearful testimony during the original trial before U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker about being denied the right to marry Katami, his partner of more than a decade.
"He is the love of my life," Zarrillo said.
On Wednesday, having come out the other side of a long and taxing legal battle, Zarrillo told reporters the phrase he'd wanted to say under the cloak of marriage since being turned down by the state in 2009.
"I look forward to growing old with the man I love."
Supporters of the gay marriage ban, however, refused to back down, taking to the airwaves to defend Proposition 8 and what they insisted was a narrow Supreme Court victory, arguing it applied only to the two sets of plaintiffs.
"This is far from over, I can tell you," Chapman University law professor John Eastman, who supports the same-sex marriage ban, told the L.A. Times.
But with the political structure of California eager to move past Proposition 8 and restart issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, momentum was clearly on the side of Zarrillo and Katami.
By Wednesday evening, the couple had gone from the steps of the Supreme Court to a stage in West Hollywood, where a sense of jubilation had been ignited at 7 a.m. local time as news of the DOMA and Proposition 8 decisions hit.
Still smiling proudly and looking chipper, Zarrillo and Katami kissed before addressing the sea of supporters holding rainbow and American flags as well as signs celebrating marriage equality.
“Our desire to marry has actually grown over the last four years being involved in this case,” Zarrillo said.
Later, Katami added, “Today is a really great day.... It's a day that we can tell every young gay person, be who you are, marry who you want to marry, fall in love and be true.”
Los Angeles Times staff writers Maura Dolan and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report, as did City Editor Mark Kellam.