March 10, 2013

Gay couple at the heart of the matter

The Supreme Court will hear their challenge to the same-sex marriage ban in California on March 26.

By ROBERT BARNES/The Washington Post

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Jeff Zarillo, left, and Paul Katami, a couple for 12 years, want to get married. Their lawsuit against Proposition 8, which California voters approved in 2008, is nearly four years old.

Washington Post photo

California voters approved Prop 8 after the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry. It passed with 52 percent of the vote.

Almost immediately, liberal activists such as Rob and Michele Reiner began organizing a legal challenge. The surprise came when they were told the issue might interest Olson, a prolific Supreme Court practitioner, former solicitor general under President George W. Bush and stalwart of the conservative legal establishment.

He teamed up with Boies to organize a challenge that would try not just to overturn Prop 8 but also to establish that the Constitution requires making marriage available to all. And that would involve finding the right plaintiffs.

Zarrillo and Katami had no reason to believe it would be them.

They have been a couple for 12 years, politically aware, especially of Prop 8, but hardly activists.

Zarrillo is a "Jersey boy," raised in the township of Brick, N.J., and a graduate of Montclair State University. He started taking tickets at the local movie house in college, and now AMC is the only company he has ever worked for.

He moved to California after college and now manages the 16-screen theater in downtown Burbank, the busiest on the West Coast.

His coming out was slow, even though he said he knew in high school that he was gay. Even after coming to California he dated women. He met Katami online.

When the two decided to move in together, Katami had one condition.

"I told him that I wouldn't do it until he told his parents," Katami said in an interview, sitting at the couple's dining-room table. "I had been through all that with someone else - separate phone lines and everything. I wasn't going to do that again."

Zarrillo booked a flight to New Jersey that night. He should not have been concerned.

As his father, Dominick, wrote in a first-person Father's Day article published last year in The New York Times: "We told him that we already knew, and that we really liked Paul, and that we were happy for him. We laughed about how scared he had been to tell us, and after that it was Jeff and Paul, Paul and Jeff."

Katami grew up in San Francisco, and he, too, mostly kept the secret of his sexuality through high school. He figured his family suspected and never felt the need for a sit-down explanation. "I just decided one day I would say, 'I have a boyfriend, and I'm bringing him home for Thanksgiving,' and that would be it," he said.

After getting a master's of fine arts at UCLA, Katami tried his hand at acting and eventually settled on training. He developed a core-exercise apparatus called the Katamibar that he introduced via infomercials, and he has a full line of training videos online.

Neither was disappointed that the Supreme Court decided to take the case. "This is what we hoped would happen from the beginning," Zarrillo said. "This is what we signed on for."


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