Jeff Zarrillo putting the finishing touches on Paul Katami in the film. (HBO)
Oh, Prop 8.
You made the lives of gay Californians hell over the years but as they say, “that which does not destroy you makes you stronger.” Filmmakers Ben Cotner and Ryan White have compiled all their coverage of the fight to bring down Prop 8 in their film The Case Against 8.
The film is not just outsiders looking in but Cotner and White had up close and personal access to how one historic case overturned California’s ban on same sex marriage, how two unlikely men – Ted Olson and David Boies – came together to put together the case and the two couples who became the plaintiffs in the case – Kris Perry & Sandy Stier and Paul Katami & Jeff Zarrillo.
The Case Against 8 already won the Directing Award/US Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and also recently took home the Audience Award at South By Southwest.
We sat down earlier this week with Katami and Zarrillo to talk about the film, being the first male couple to marry once Prop 8 was abolished and the wedding they’re having later this month in Los Angeles.
TheBacklot: I’m guessing you guys have seen this film a few times now.
Jeff Zarrillo: Tonight [at the LA premiere] will be number 12.
How does it affect you each time you see it?
JZ: I cry at the same scenes just as hard, I laugh at the same scenes just as hard. Typically, I’m sitting next to [Paul] and it just makes me love him even more. I’m looking at him and I’m prideful that we went through it together and that we did it together. [The film is] something that we will always have now to memorialize when we’re old and…I was going to say old and grey, but we’re already grey. When we’re much older and our nieces and nephews, or if we have kids, we can sit down and show them this little piece of history, in a very big movement, with a lot of people.
That’s quite a home movie for your relationship, at least the last five or six years of your relationship.
JZ: Two-thirds of our relationship together.
What did the experience do to your relationship? I’m guessing it made it stronger, but was it also wearing on your relationship at times because there was a lot of scrutiny and a lot of eyeballs on you guys?
Paul Katami: When we first decided to become plaintiffs in the case, it actually exposed quite a weakness in our relationship. That weakness was that we had never really talked about just how damaged we felt in the past by what being gay in America means. You’re growing up and you’re growing up closeted and the discrimination that you feel everyday and having to come out every day and all these different pressures that you just kind of…I think Kris Perry says it great…coping, coping, coping, coping, coping, coping…you become the world’s best coper.
You know what? That’s universal, I think, for any minority group. You feel like you just have to cope with stuff that you deal with and you make yourself stronger by just kind of filtering it out and letting it go. But at this point, where we became plaintiffs, we had to really bring that all up to the surface. It just kind of helped us bridge a little bit of a gap in terms of the emotional process that it would take.
Then it really built a deeper foundation for us. I think that we knew we would support each other 100 percent. We set some ground rules about everything saying, ‘Listen, if you’re frustrated or whatever, we’re going to be 100 percent honest in this process because it’s going to take us through these ups and downs.’ We decided that any day that felt like it was a down that we would turn around and try to do something positive and remind ourselves…we call them ‘count your blessings moments’ where we count our blessings that we’re so lucky to be a part of this and surrounded by such great people.
The third couple in the film : the unlikely pairing of Ted Olson & David Boies. (HBO)
How much do you feel the Hollywood community impacted the fight? Once the Rob Reiners and people with influence came into the picture. And not just for money but for recognition and spreading the word.
JZ: We would never be able to do something like this without the help of the Hollywood community at large, more specifically, Rob and Michelle Reiner and Bruce Cohen and [Dustin] Lance Black. These are individuals that have a platform, based on their experiences and their careers, that can really help elevate a movement, aside from the checkbook. The checkbook is important. We wouldn’t be able to do this without the checkbook, but it’s really more about the political platforms that they have.
With someone like Rob who has been involved in early childhood education and considered running for governor, he’s very politically involved and really just, at his core, with Michelle, they both believe that this is an equality issue. They don’t have any kids that are gay. This is just an important issue to them. I think that when you get Michal Lombardo, from HBO, coming on board with this documentary and taking such good care of it like they’ve done with The Normal Heart, it helps move us forward. Hollywood sometimes gets a bad wrap from the other side, or the people that don’t necessarily agree with us. They have their versions of Hollywood too. Ours just has a little more glitz and glamour, but what else would you expect from the gays?
How did your opinion of marriage change throughout this process?
PK: Listen, the definition of marriage for us has always been the same definition. It’s a universal theme, right? You meet someone, you fall madly in love, you want to be married. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight…it doesn’t matter what religion you are, what race you are, what political affiliation you are. It is a touch point across the globe.
For us it was about one, yes, fulfillment of a relationship, celebration and ceremony, all those things, by all means, but it was equally as important to be defined by the protections. That was based on the people that we met whose lives were damaged because they hadn’t been protected and maybe they had lost a partner. So, we understood that it took on a double meaning.
I don’t know if it changed. It deepened for sure. Then, as the opposing side would come after us with all these different reasons of how they would define marriage…their definitions of marriage were all over the place. They were just like changing and ‘strategy is this’ and ‘the state’s interest is in procreation.’ You’re looking at them going, ‘Wow, our definition stayed really simple through this whole thing. I love Jeff. We want to be married. We want to be protected. Period.’
The plaintiffs in the case: (l-r) Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo (HBO)
You guys did get married last year and your wedding is at the end of the month. Talk to me about that.
JZ: It really is a wedding celebration because last year when this all went down, it was two days after the ruling and we got this phone call that says, ‘If you really want to be the first ones to marry in LA and Kris and Sandy the first ones in San Francisco, we’re hearing that the ninth circuit is going to lift it today.’
My family is in New Jersey, his is in Nor-Cal. You could imagine that phone call to Mom saying, ‘Thank you for supporting us all these years. We‘re about to get married and you can’t be there.’ The support was there and what the stipulation from our family was that, ‘you have to have a celebration that we can all be a part of and that we can all drink and eat cake at.’ The Beverly Hilton has stepped up to help us out with having a celebration that Ted and David will officiate.
PK: It’s everyone together.
JZ: Chad Griffin will be there and a lot of our Board will be there, all of our friends and family will be there and it’s really just about a celebration of how far we’ve come in the year as a community and also to show how normal this is. This is just a celebration of people who love each other getting married. They’re happening all across the country in straight communities. Why can’t they happen in our community?
We’re really excited because it’s actually the year anniversary that marriage has returned and it’s the forty-fifth anniversary of Stonewall. It’s the year anniversary of our ruling and the eleventh anniversary of the Lawrence decision. So, there are a lot of happening at the end Gay Pride 2014.
Once you were married, did you feel like a change had happened once it was actually legal and you got the certificate? I know when I married my husband, it had a bigger impact than I would’ve guessed.
PK: Jeff and I like to say, ‘It changed nothing, but it changed everything at the same time.’ That’s defined two ways. It changed noting for us because like you said, we already act and live and love like a married couple but the weight of feeling like second class citizens, the weight of that inequality, the weight of the discrimination, the barrier to equality. When you take that breath and you feel like, ‘I’m fully recognized in this state’ and I really am, that changes everything in that moment.
The other way of defining it is, it changes everything and nothing because it changed nothing in the outside world. The sky didn’t fall, the neighbors houses didn’t implode. Everything has remained the same but our lives have benefited from it which just then shines a light on ‘why should you be against this if you know the only thing that happens is a benefit to your fellow American,’ right? That’s really what it boils down to. So, saying, ‘I do’ to the case and saying ‘I do’ at the very end, when we got married, changed a lot for us, but it also meant that we could complete our normalcy in our life as well. Thanks for that.
Speaking of normal, I know this ride you’ve been on, it’s not normal. But do you have a normal at this point?
JZ: We do. Our lives are very normal, as they were throughout the whole four and a half, five year process of the lawsuit. You had these moments of ebb and flow where you were very plugged into something, a hearing or a part of a trial or waiting on a ruling. These were all things that were part of you everyday and then there is a briefing stage or a stage when noting is happening. The day after the court ruling, the Supreme Court ruling, I was mowing the lawn, that just sort of underscores that fact that we were just regular guys who, if we didn’t have our jobs we couldn’t pay our mortgage. So, we had to keep that normalcy. We still have that normalcy and the film just sort of, I think, really does a great job of underscoring the fact that, when you distill everything out of the film, it’s a love story. It’s a love story for Paul and I, it’s a love story for Kris and Sandy and apparently [filmmakers] Ben and Ryan are saying it’s a love story of Ted and David…
That’s what they’re saying. They’re saying there are three couples.
JZ: We’re normal guys and the film being on HBO and in theaters it’s going to give us a little more notoriety but that’s not what it’s about for us. It’s going to give the issue more notoriety. It’s going to keep the issue on the front page. It’s going to put the issue front and center on HBO again a week or two weeks after another thing had aired. So, it really will help public opinion and that’s really what we’re hoping for.
The Case Against 8 is in theaters today. Visit the website for a theater near you. The film will also air on HBO on Monday, June 23rd.