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Although it’s been a long journey for Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, who met online 13½ years ago, there was never any doubt about their destination. The two men, plaintiffs in the historic court battle to overturn California’s Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, were unwilling to settle for anything less than full marriage equality under the law. On Saturday, June 28, they got their wish, in a star-studded ceremony at The Beverly Hilton. Although they were legally married in 2013, the occasion represented an opportunity to share their victory in love—and in the courts—with the world.

“When we understood that we could have a wedding of this magnitude at an iconic location in Beverly Hills, and in a very dramatic and beautiful way, we said, ‘OK, let’s absolutely make this a wedding that people will remember and that will bring together all the people who were there with us during our 4½-year battle,’ ” says Katami. “Our legal battle was about the law—it was about the rights associated with this institution. But it’s also about the celebration, about bringing people together.”

For Zarrillo, a Los Angeles transplant from New Jersey, the wedding represented a journey he began in 2001, after responding to an online profile of Katami. “I was in the closet, looking to learn more about myself and to learn more about the gay community, and when I met Paul online I was immediately enthralled by the fact that this person was just like me,” he says.

Zarrillo recalls how he had to navigate the anxiety he felt about coming out to his family before he was able to take the relationship to the next level. “After a year and a half or so, I decided that I wanted Paul to move in with me, because we were spending so much time at each other’s place,” he says. “So on his birthday I gave him a watch, and underneath the watch I placed the key to my apartment. And he looked at me, and he said, ‘I love you, I love the watch, and I love the key even more, but I just can’t move in with you until you are open with your family. But I’ll wait as long as you want.’ ”

That conversation represented a tipping point for Zarrillo, who wasted no time in responding to Katami’s challenge. “That night I booked a flight, and I flew home and told my parents and friends I was gay,” he says. “All my friends stared at me, like, ‘Yeah, we knew—we were just waiting for you to tell us.’ And then I returned and wrote a 30-day notice to Paul’s landlord and handed it to him.”

For Katami, the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008 was a baptism of fire. “When Prop 8 passed, it hurt in a way that’s almost indescribable, and it also really opened up a discussion between Jeff and me about the damage we felt both personally and as a couple,” he says. “We knew we wanted to be married, but the barriers to that were so difficult. It really makes you feel you have to come out every single day, everywhere you go, and not know what kind of reply you will have to deal with, whereas the definition of marriage is using the language of marriage—of saying, ‘This is my husband.’ It’s definitive. People understand, and if they have a problem with it, that is their problem.”

By fighting to overturn Proposition 8, Katami and Zarrillo have helped secure the dignity of marriage for all LGBT people in California—and thus dilute the stigma around sexual orientation. “By being involved in what we did, we wanted to really show that this is normal,” says Katami. “We’ve met couples who have been together 44 years, who have told us that they never thought they’d see this in their lifetime. Falling in love and wanting to be married is a universal theme, and we should all have the right to do that.”

For Zarrillo a defining moment of the wedding came when Glee star Darren Criss emerged to sing “You and I,” made famous by Michael Bublé. “For years my mother has always said, ‘I want to dance with you at your wedding,’ and we didn’t know if that day would ever come, but it was one of the things I was most looking forward to,” he says. “When Darren Criss came out, we escorted our mothers to the stage, and at the midpoint we switched, and I danced with Paul’s mother, and he danced with mine. That was a really, really powerful moment for us and for our mothers, as well as a great symbol of how important that day had always been for us.”


Photos by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for Hilton Hotels & Resorts