It was an emotional morning for Jeff Zarillo, 36. At a trial being watched across the nation, he described how he loved his partner, Paul Katami, more than he loves himself, and how he only wants to have “the same joy and happiness” that his parents and brother have in their marriages. Zarillo was the first witness in the Proposition 8 trial, which opened today.
It took 15 minute for Zarillo to complete his testimony, but in that short time he described what it was like to come out as a gay man in the 1980s. His testimony was echoed by his partner, Katami, who takes offence at the slogan “Protect the children,” as if he posed a threat to them: “If you put my nieces and nephews on the stand right now, I’d be the cool uncle.” Attitudes toward gays and lesbians have certainly changed over the past three decades.
That was even evident from the opening statement earlier that morning by attorney Charles Cooper, who is defending Proposition 8. Rather than attack gay marriage, he focused on the protections already afforded to gay couples through the mechanism of legal partnerships. Nevertheless, he also highlighted procreation as what he believes to be the primary purpose of marriage. For him, gay marriage is a risky “experiment.”
People across the country will be watching the trial—and protesting for and against Prop 8—as witnesses take the stand. Many believe that the decision, whatever it may be, will eventually be appealed before the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, some claim, it could have the same impact as Brown v. Board of Education, which ended school segregation. On the other hand, opponents of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, say that this could be comparable Roe v. Wade, the controversial decision that tackled abortion.
The case certainly has its colorful figures. Observers anticipate many more emotional testimonies like those of Zarillo and Katami, but the judge and attorneys will also become instant media stars—especially if it is decided on Wednesday to broadcast the hearings live.
Justice Vaughan Walker has already shown that he intends to take a proactive role in the proceedings by questioning the attorneys and witnesses. Attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, who are both arguing against Prop 8, are also an unlikely couple. In the past the faced off over the “hanging chad” decision in the contested 2000 presidential election. Olson, a staunch conservative, later went on to serve as U.S. Solicitor General and George W. Bush. Nevertheless, he believes that supporting gay marriage rights does not conflict with his principles, and in fact, that denying rights to gay couples is wrong.
Meanwhile, Charles Cooper, who is defending Prop 8, has a few challenges of his own. Ostensibly, he is representing Governor Schwarzenegger and, by extension, Attorney General Jerry Brown. But Schwarzenegger refuses to comment on the case, while Brown, who is also running for governor, filed a motion stating that he supports the the position of Olson and Boies.