By Amanda Beck
A momentary but brazen kiss between two gay men illustrated the emotion and defiance vibrating through the courtroom on Monday, the first day of Perry v. Schwarzenegger and its challenge to Proposition 8.
Plaintiff Jeffrey Zarrillo, 36, was the case’s first witness. He described not only his deep love for his nine-year partner, Paul Katami, but also his desire for California to honor their relationship by allowing them to marry.
Katami, 37, then rose to replace Zarrillo on the witness stand, and as the two passed each other near their gallery seats, they stopped to kiss once, fully, on the lips.
The moment caught the attention of the audience, partly because the couple were standing in an open session of court, near the middle of the room, and among a sea of 140 seated spectators, reporters, and attorneys. The display also seemed to punctuate the couple’s frank and emotional testimony about how these men feel about each other – and how they are received in public.
“He’s the love of my life. I love him probably more than I love myself,” Zarrillo declared, his voice cracking and tears welling. “I would do anything for him, and I want nothing more than to marry him.”
Zarrillo said that he wears a ring to symbolize his commitment to Katami and that, when people notice it, they sometimes ask what his wife does for a living. He said the conversations are uncomfortable, partly because Zarrillo cannot use the language of marriage to indicate the seriousness of his relationship, “leaving me to deliver the news that I’m a gay man, and that my husband – or my domestically partnered friend – works in the fitness industry.”
“Being gay means I’ve been relegated to a corner, and I’m tired of living my life that way,” Katami said.
Emotion ran high among the plaintiffs and the camp of about 20 family members and friends who came to support their testimony on Monday. Each witness, after leaving the stand, was received by members of the group. Hollywood director Rob Reiner was there. So were Cleve Jones, creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and Dustin Lance Black, author of the Academy Award-winning screenplay for the 2008 film “Milk.”
The group gave the impression of a large extended family as most of them ate lunch together in the courthouse cafeteria, their long table standing beneath a glass etching of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous incantation: “We shall overcome.”
Later, after lesbian plaintiffs Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier finished their testimony, declaring that California’s legal flip-flopping on gay marriage had made a “circus” of of their relationship, they were joined in the audience by their attorney, Theodore Olson. He kissed each woman on the cheek and whispered, “I’m so proud of you.”