Regardless of one's position on the timing and prudence of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal case challenging California's anti-gay-marriage amendment, Proposition 8, it was difficult for many of those sitting in a San Francisco courtroom not to be moved by testimony of the two gay couples who filed suit in the face of inequity. On the stand, Jeff Zarrillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier, and Kristin Perry combined the conviction of longtime gay rights activists (which they are not) and the plainspoken delivery of ordinary people trying to live their lives and protect their families (which they are). Both Zarrillo and Katami were visibly emotional when speaking about their relationship: "I would be with him in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, death do us part, just like vows," Zarrillo said. "I would do anything for him. And I want nothing more than to marry him."
The testimony has concluded, but a decision in the case is still weeks away, with closing arguments likely in March or April. Zarrillo and Katami, who have been together for nearly nine years, recently spoke to Advocate.com about their legal team, led by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, and their experience in a suit that may ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Advocate.com: What was it was like to be at the center of this trial? Jeff Zarillo: There was such a range of emotions on the first day, listening to all the plaintiffs, to hear our experts detail long-standing discrimination against [gays and lesbians], our lack of real political power -- we came out of this with teachable moments that we can use.
Seeing how impressive and how well-developed our legal team's case was, how our experts were so credible, and how their experts were so not credible, I was struck by that. We all walked out of the courtroom with our heads held high.
Were you nervous going into your testimony? Paul Katami: It was shocking how emotional the process was. You prepare as much as you possibly can, but on day 1, I was the most nervous I've ever been in my life. I was sick to my stomach and rendered a lump in the chair. But the minute Ted Olson stood up and encapsulated why we were there that day, my nerves just washed away. It was comforting, knowing that we deserve these rights, that we're on the right side of the law. It gave me a sense of confidence and excitement. And on the final day of testimony, to see David Boies drop his bag, hug us, and say, "We've done this, and we did it right. It's important that you are a part of this." That was overwhelming.
Your legal team has used the phrase "teachable moments" to describe the social impact of this case -- a notion derided by defenders of Prop. 8 (Andrew Pugno, an attorney for ProtectMarriage.com, said after opening statements, "This is a trial. This is not a campaign"). Why do you feel this is an important element to the suit? Jeff: The education component is so important because the trial has a definitive amount of time. The education is ongoing and has to continue on every level. That's ultimately going to help us to change the hearts and minds of those who may have disagreed with our case. Paul: In our discussion with friends and family, sometimes I think the community outside of our initial circle thinks the conversation will always lead to heated arguments, and for that reason they choose not to engage. By being in the courtroom and looking at the factual evidence that shows how we have faced discrimination, these bullet points become crystallized because they're based in historic fact. And we know we can use them as teachable moments in conversations we have with our friends and our neighbors. I only wish we could have had this prior to the Prop. 8 vote. [Note: Transcripts of expert witness testimony from the trial are available here.] Going into this lawsuit, did you see yourselves as marriage equality activists? And do you see yourself taking a national advocacy role outside of this case? Paul: If you would have asked us a year and a half ago if Jeff and I were activists, I don't think we would have defined ourselves that way. But this entire process has educated us every step of the way. ... When we step away from this case, in discussions we've had, we'd love to devote ourselves [to the cause]. Jeff: We'd absolutely be willing to be involved to the extent that we can be, and we'll make those decisions in concert with AFER [American Foundation for Equal Rights, which was created to organize and help fund the lawsuit].
Paul, why do you think you were the only plaintiff to be cross-examined? Paul: I think it's because I was the only one who spoke in detail about the Yes on 8 campaigning tactics that I felt so harmed by. Those ads were so misleading, so untrue, with slogans created to create fear about harming children in order to sway the vote. That struck me to the core, and I could not sit with it. And that was a large part of my testimony.
You both testified that you decided not to seek a domestic partnership in California. Though unequal, a domestic partnership seems like a logical first step for any committed couple to obtain. Do you stand by that decision? Jeff: We absolutely stand by that. We appreciate the work that's been done to get those [domestic partnership] rights. But it still relegates us to a level of second-class citizenship. In the absence of no rights at all, a domestic partnership is a good thing, and we can respect fellow members of the LGBT community who make that decision. But at the end of the day, we want to be married. The consequences of this suit cannot be overstated. How confident are you moving forward? Jeff: I've got Ted Olson in my corner, so I think I'm ready. He's the most recognizable face in front of the Supreme Court, and him making our argument for us lends such credibility to the argument itself.