Life goes on for Burbank couple after U.S. Supreme Court decision

When Burbank newlyweds Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo stumbled into San Francisco City Hall on June 30 just moments after marching in the city's gay pride parade they were overwhelmed by what they saw.

Dozens of same-sex couples — some in their 70s, others joined by their parents, many with flower girls and boys in bowties by their sides — were lined up, waiting to get married.

"I said, 'Jeff, stop, take a look around, everybody's getting married in this room right now,'" Katami recalled this week. "You think to yourself, 'How could anyone stand against this?'"

Just two days earlier, Katami and Zarrillo had themselves gotten married.

The moment marked the culmination of a more than four-year legal battle — full of emotional testimonies, near-endless court hearings and trips to Washington D.C. — in which Katami, 40, and Zarrillo, 39, along with a lesbian couple from Berkeley, challenged Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively nullified Proposition 8 by sending the case back to California, where a judge in 2010 had overturned the ban.

The Supreme Court decision set into motion a series of cross-country events, a phone call from President Obama, celebratory rallies and a rushed drive through L.A.'s notoriously clogged streets to City Hall.

Ironically, after a six-year engagement, Katami and Zarrillo had a "shotgun wedding" that happened in front of a throng of news cameras, just as much of their legal battle did.

There was hardly enough time to get to L.A. City Hall, let alone assemble a traditional wedding party. But millions were on the guest list as the ceremony was broadcast live on "The Rachel Maddow Show."

"Four-and-a-half years and we got married in less than five minutes," Zarrillo said. "We wanted to be first couple in L.A. to get married — that was important to us."

Zarrillo's parents tuned in with a bottle of champagne from their New Jersey home, Katami's sister from a San Francisco restaurant, and strangers watched in Amsterdam, Greece and Spain.

"In the moment, it was so surreal," Katami said. "We got home to finally sit down and watch it and say, 'Wow, we got married. That actually happened.'"

Another, more intimate wedding celebration is in the works. For that, Zarrillo's mother said she'll need a beach towel.

"I'm known as the crier in the family," Linda Zarrillo said with a laugh.

Hours after the couple's Los Angeles wedding, Katami's sister Maria McGuire greeted the newlyweds in San Francisco, where they'd be marching in the gay pride parade. She thought they looked different — peaceful, content.

"Finally, they look like they're supposed to look together," McGuire said.

And finally, they could go back to being "ordinary guys."

"I told Jeff and Paul, 'Now you've got to go back home, cut your lawns, do everything else — nothing's really changed,'" said Jeff's father, Dominick.

Except, on June 26, everything did, at least on the legal front. For the two weeks prior to that fateful Supreme Court decision, though, anxiety and cautious optimism were inescapable.

As the high court started issuing its decisions on a number of cases over that two-week period, Katami and Zarrillo traveled to D.C. four times — once for just five hours — each time, not knowing if that could be the day the outcome of their case would be released.

But as the number of cases started whittling down, the sense of expectation was finally set to its highest level. Their case would be the last to be announced, on the last day it could be. No more what-ifs, June 26 was the last day of the court's term, and Katami and Zarrillo were expecting a decision that would, they said, define the rest of their lives.

"It was a strange mix of a sense of relief because we knew it was going to happen and a heightened version of anxiety because we knew it was going to happen as well," Katami said.

After the decision was announced, Katami and Zarrillo marched out of the court victorious as droves of people chanted "Thank you! Thank you!"

"Until that day, we hadn't really felt that we were treated like first-class citizens in this country," Katami said. "Ultimately, what our case showed was that there was zero, not one, instance where there was a legitimate reason to prohibit us from having the same rights as other Americans."

So after the ruling, "until death do us part" wasn't the only vow Katami and Zarrillo made.

With most states in the U.S. not recognizing gay marriage, or even offering same-sex unions, the couple's mission remains in place.

"Jeff and I made vow that day that we would do anything in our power to help anyone who would have us to continue the fight, the struggle for equality," Katami said. "We don't live in a fractured country, we live in a united one."

Jeff Zarrillo added, "I really don't think the movement can be stopped at this point."


Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.


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