There was one message that echoed throughout the Beverly Hilton's poolside patio Saturday evening at the wedding reception for Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, two of the plaintiffs in the landmark case that struck down California's Proposition 8: Love wins.
Katami and Zarrillo, who along with fellow plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier — represented all the way to the Supreme Court by legendary attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies — successfully defeated California's voter-approved constitutional amendment that revoked marriage equality in that state, had waited more than five years to celebrate their legal marriage. So it's fitting that when the couple finally held their wedding reception, it was a party fit for a king — a pair of kings, actually.
Throughout the evening, enthusiastic cheers and shouts of congratulations from the 235 guests permeated the poolside patio at the Los Angeles hotel, never more fervent then when Katami and Zarrillo exchanged emotional, unique vows on a stage that jutted out into the center of the Beverly Hilton's pool. Candles floated in the water as the newlyweds exchanged rings in a heartfelt ceremony officiated by Olson and Boies.
It's been more than five years since the case was first argued in U.S. District Court in San Francisco; at the time it was known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger. And it's been just over one year since the decision in that case, written by now-retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker (who attended Saturday's celebration) was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Over that time, the plaintiffs "became our friends, our family, and our heroes," attorney Boies said as he officiated the couple's ceremony Saturday.
"They're no longer plaintiffs," noted fellow attorney Olson, in his co-officiant duties. "[Everyone here tonight] can feel the universal joy of people who can be part of our community."
"Today is all about smiling," Zarrillo told The Advocate. "It's about the joy that comes along with being married! There's nothing more normal than two people falling in love and getting married, and we're celebrating that tonight. We're celebrating it with friends and family who've come from near and far, and we couldn't be happier to be surrounded by a group of people that have supported us for so long and have filled this entire process with nothing but love and support."
Saturday night's star-studded event included all four plaintiffs and their famously "odd couple" attorneys as well as celebrities and activists ranging from straight allies Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis to out actors Wilson Cruz, Alc Mapa, and Lance Bass, who attended with his fiancé, Michael Turchin. The celebration was hosted by the Beverly Hilton Hotel and Shiraz Events and sponsored by Moët & Chandon, Danhov Rings, Luna Garden Events, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and Joanie & Leigh's Cakes.
Saturday's celebration fell on the one-year anniversary of Katami and Zarrillo's legal marriage, which was the first same-sex marriage to take place in Los Angeles County, June 28, 2013, when then-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presided over an emotional ceremony between Katami and Zarrillo.
"We joke that getting married changed nothing, but it also changed everything at the same time," Katami told The Advocate. "You live a little freer, you live a little more sure of yourself and your relationship, you freely use the language that was once prohibited to us, and it does change everything. … It also really solidifies our belief in the law, in the Constitution, that what we fight for in this country is about being treated equally. We know there's a lot more work to be done, but tonight is about celebrating love, and about how love wins."
Ted Olson, who argued the Prop. 8 case, ultimately known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, before the U.S. Supreme Court — and who previously represented George W. Bush opposite David Boies in the 2000 case of Bush v. Gore — said he's pleased to see more of his fellow conservatives come out in support of marriage equality.
"I think that the more and more conservatives are recognizing what I advocated at the very beginning: Marriage is a conservative value," Olson told The Advocate. "Please let us allow loving people who want to come together and form an enduring relationship, become a part of our community, become a part of our society; why can't we do that? We have to be able to do that, and more and more conservatives are realizing this is the right thing to do. It accomplishes nothing else than making people happy and making people a part of a community, and is really wonderful."
Former 'NSync member Lance Bass and his fiancé, Michael Turchin, admitted they were looking to steal a few ideas for their own nuptials, slated to take place in February.
"It will be right here [in California] because of these guys right here," Bass told The Advocate, pointing to Katami and Zarrillo. "We wanted to do it in our home state, and we're so lucky that Jeff and Paul went through it for us, to be able to get married. And we could not be happier to be here to honor their love, and out of respect to be here to celebrate with everyone that was fighting so hard against Prop. 8, with Rob [Reiner] and everyone, straight and gay alike, people really came out and fought so hard."
Retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, whose 2010 decision declaring Prop. 8 unconstitutional was ultimately upheld at the Supreme Court, was in attendance with his own partner Saturday, and reflected soberly on the decision. While most of the successful legal challenges seeking marriage equality in individual states have relied heavily on the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Windsor, striking down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, the testimony and findings of fact in Walker's decisions have also been instrumental in proving in a court of law that sexual orientation is immutable and that gay and lesbian people are entitled to a civil right to marry the person of their choosing. The case marked one of just two instances ever in which witnesses have taken the stand in a federal freedom-to-marry case.
"I told the parties that I wanted a record upon which to decide the case," Walker told The Advocate. "I gave them, I think, it was 19 questions that should be answered in the course of the trial, and they marshaled the evidence to answer those questions."
"When we were writing the decision, we were writing it the same way you would write any other decision," Walker said when asked if he, as a gay man, felt an emotional connection to the decision. "Looking at the facts that have been presented, and looking at the testimony, and the exhibits, and just going through methodically."
Congressman Mark Takano, the first openly gay man elected to represent California in the U.S. Congress, noted the poetic irony of his conservative district — which also produced the county clerk who stepped in to defend Prop. 8 when two sets of California governors and attorneys general refused to do so — sending the state's first openly gay elected representative to Washington, D.C.
"As California's first openly gay member of Congress, who ironically was elected from an area that voted very heavily for Prop. 8, and who, the intervenor, Hollingsworth, actually comes from Riverside County," Takano told The Advocate. "The very same Riverside County that gave us that also gave us California's very first gay member of Congress. And I can't be more delighted to congratulate this couple. And to also stand in admiration for what they've done for all Americans."
Asked what comes next in the fight for LGBT equality, Takano was quick to note a piece of legislation he recently introduced that would essentially allow all government agencies, including Social Security and Medicare, to recognize legally married same-sex spouses, regardless of where they live. The Social Security and Medicare Parity Act, Takano explained, "would say if you're married legally somewhere in this country, you are entitled to the benefits you've worked a lifetime to earn."
Beyond that, though, Takano knows the fight isn't over. "Interracial marriages were basically legalized, but nevertheless there was a social stigma attached to them for a long time to come," he said. "I imagine that's going to be true for same-sex marriages — that people's emotional comfort level with it will not fully materialize for decades. So we still have much work to do. We have a lot to do with bullying in the schools, and we're seeing what's going on in Russia and some parts of Africa — there's a lot more to do. But I'm proud that we live in a country that is setting an example for what equality and freedom really mean."
See more photos from the celebration below.