TELLURIDE – When Telluride Gay Ski Week kicks off Friday, it will celebrate the hurdles already cleared on the road to legal gay marriage in all 50 states, sooner or later, one way or another.
To that end, Scott Barretto and John McGill, cofounders and producers of Telluride Gay Ski Week, have named Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami honorary chairs of this year’s event.
“Jeff and Paul were the perfect choice for us,” said Barretto, of Zarrillo and Katami, two of the four plaintiffs in this year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage in California that overturned Proposition 8.
Narrowly passed by California voters in the 2008 election, Prop 8 made it illegal for gays to marry. Upon its being ruled unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 28 of last year (and with the Supreme Court’s expected denial of an appeal shortly thereafter), Zarrillo said, “We were first in line to get our license, and we drove over to City Hall.”
The beyond-happy couple’s wedding – with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa officiating – was broadcast live on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.
What the Zarrillo and Katami call their “shotgun wedding” of course has a story behind it, which started to be told on Father’s Day, 2012, in a heart-wrenching “Modern Love” column by Zarrillo’s father, Dominick, in the Sunday New York Times.
“One day soon, they’re going to let my brave, beautiful boy walk the same path we all get to take home,” is how Zarrillo Sr. ended that memorable column, in which he chronicled some of the bullying Jeff – “a small, sweet child who never hurt anyone” – endured in grade school.
Zarrillo Sr. went on to describe how, when Jeff reached adulthood, “I could tell there was something he wasn’t saying, something knotted in his belly,” and knew Jeff was trying to tell him he was gay. Finally, “We told him that we already knew….
“One of the worst days in my son’s life was in November 2008,” when California voters passed Proposition 8, he wrote in the Times. “Paul and Jeff want to marry and have a family, yet they know there will be more bullying, more ganging up against them, in their effort to seek that.”
‘We Had Come So Far, We Had Elected Barack Obama…’
The battle to end Proposition 8 began almost immediately after its success at Election Day 2008 polls.
“What bothered us most about that day,” said Jeff Zarrillo, 40, who manages a multiplex movie theater in downtown Burbank, Calif., “was the fact that we had just elected our first African-American president. It was this dichotomy – we had come so far; we had elected Barack Obama, but, too, in just a few hours, voters took rights away from citizens in California.
“I think Proposition 8 rally opened our eyes; we became emboldened. If it could pass in California, then it could pass anywhere.”
Zarrillo and Katami, a 40-year-old fitness instructor, want children, but consider marriage a prerequisite to child-rearing. They became keystone activists in the campaign to repeal Proposition 8 soon after its passage, and soon were asked, alongside Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier, to be co-plaintiffs in the Prop 8 appeal mounted by the odd-couple team of conservative litigator Ted Olson and liberal litigator David Boies.
If those two lawyers’ names sound familiar, it’s because Olson and Boies faced off on opposite sides of Bush v. Gore in 2000. This go-round, they were allied, and they still are, as the marriage-equality battle may end up again at the U.S. Supreme Court (although it may not be their case that the Supreme Court agrees to hear).
“For us, the overarching message is that this is a political issue,” said Katami, of the fight for equal rights. “It exemplifies that, when it comes down to civil rights, or human rights, it doesn’t matter which side of the aisle” plaintiffs, attorneys, judges and the citizenry sit on. “All of these judges” ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in various parts of the country, “whether they’re from conservative or liberal areas, they all seem to be interpreting the law correctly,” he said, as the legal roadblocks to same-sex marriage steadily fall away.
“It’s been an amazing year,” said Zarrillo. “The support we have seen for our community is nothing short of incredible. We are excited to be named honorary chairs of Gay Ski Week, and we look forward to joining our friends in Telluride.”
Telluride Gay Ski Week celebrates Jeff and Paul’s Big Gay Wedding Party, on Friday, Feb. 28, at the Hotel Madeline. All Ski Week attendees and Telluride residents are invited.
“They represent what can happen when you commit yourselves to making it a better world,” McGill said of the newlyweds. “Although we have a long way to go toward full equality, it’s nice to stop and celebrate just how far we have come.”
For a full schedule of events, visit telluridegayskiweek.com.