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Ruling welcomed by Burbank couple

Gay pair at center of legal fight are looking forward to the day when they can legally marry.

February 11, 2012|By Megan O'Neil,

Long-time partners Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo pride themselves on being informed voters, so when the Prop. 8 campaign gained momentum in 2008, the Burbank residents were disturbed by the proliferation of material that they felt cast gay marriage as an affront to American society.

“One of our neighbors — and I don’t know who it is — was on a phone bank for ‘Yes on 8’ and called me on my mobile phone on my way home one night,” said Katami, 39. “Obviously, not knowing I was gay and living in the neighborhood with Jeff, [he] tried to talk me into voting yes on 8.”

The conversation that ensued touched on everything from the separation of church and state to equal rights under the law. At the end, the caller said he appreciated Katami’s thoughtfulness.


“It took an hour of my life, but it was worth every minute,” Katami said.

Two years later, the couple would engage a much broader audience on the issues of gay marriage, joining a lesbian couple from Northern California in filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban imposed by Prop. 8.

This week, Katami and Zarrillo were front and center at celebrations in Los Angeles and San Francisco as the case took its latest twist. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Tuesday that the voter-approved law is unconstitutional, upholding a 2010 lower-court decision by federal Judge Vaughn R. Walker.

“It was very emotional,” Katami said. “At every turn, it isn’t about ‘Hooray, we won,’ it is about time, that this is the right path. There is some weight to it, there is some gravity to these rulings because what is at stake is so huge.”

Their participation in the lawsuit — funded by the American Foundation for Equal Rights — has been supported by family, friends and colleagues, as well as innumerable strangers, the couple said.

“For me, one of the greatest things is when we get the Facebook messages from people we don’t even know from all over the country, all over the world,” said Zarrillo, 38.

Still, their responsibilities extended well beyond lending their names to the lawsuit and their faces to the TV cameras. In January 2010, they each took their turn on the stand in court in San Francisco.

He was more nervous than at any other point in his life, Katami said.

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