Gay Couples Celebrate 1 Year Married After Historic Supreme Court Ruling

The Supreme Court issued rulings regarding Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act one year ago Thursday, on June 26, 2013.

Gay couples throughout California are preparing to celebrate an historic first wedding anniversary, one year after a Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for them wed in their home state.

Couples statewide who had been waiting for years rushed to their county clerks' offices to get marriage licenses just after the June 26, 2013, ruling, which led to the demise of Proposition 8's same-sex marriage ban and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Six of those couples who spoke with NBC last year have reflected anew on what marriage has meant for them in the year since, how their lives have changed and what they hope lies ahead.

Here are their stories.

Sandy Stier and Kris Perry, Berkeley

Sandy Stier is thankful she no longer has to sound like a 20-something in college, introducing her partner of 15 years as her "lover" or "roommate." The Berkeley 51-year-old now introduces Kris Perry, 49, as her wife.

The two married in a hard-won and very public ceremony at San Francisco City Hall last year, just after the Supreme Court overturned California's gay marriage ban a year ago Thursday. Stier and Perry were plaintiffs in the suit that ultimately brought down Prop 8.

One year after their wedding, Stier is still working as director of information systems for the Alameda County Health Care Services agency in Oakland. Perry has a new job, directing early childhood education advocacy group the First Five Years Fund in Washington, D.C., where the couple now share a second home.

And of their four children, their youngest children two — 19-year-old twin boys — have graduated from Albany High School are now off at college, at George Washington University and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

"We're newlyweds and empty-nesters," Stier said. "It's good but bittersweet. We really miss the kids' energy, crazy music and funny friends around the table."

For Stier and Perry, their Supreme Court triumph didn't just vindicate their love to millions.

It also simplified their daily lives, which suddenly were no longer dominated by their battle over a law that had become for so many a symbol of the equality they had yet to achieve.

"A lot of anxiety is gone," Stier said. "We feel more legitimate in society. We feel more settled. Our relationship feels more permanent. We are relieved that in California, discrimination based on sexual orientation isn't OK. And that’s a really big deal."

And now, when their friends' kids get engaged, they simply tell Stier and Perry without any hang-ups. "They don’t have to tell us and look at us in that guilty way," Stier said.

The couple's finances are simpler, too — even if their taxes have risen now that they file jointly. ("It's worth it," Stier said.)

Their marriage has also imbued their discussions with some new, deeper understanding. "The issues we deal with are the same," Stier says, "but we feel a little calmer — like no matter what, this is the real deal."

Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, Burbank

Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo had been together for eight years when they became faces of the fight against Prop 8, along with Stier and Perry.

This past year marked the first since 2010 that they no longer had to devote the time, effort and emotion to battling California's same-sex marriage ban as plaintiffs in the suit that wound up before the Supreme Court.

"Saying 'I do' changes everything, but it changes nothing as well," said Katami. "No one was harmed when we said 'I do' -- our lives benefited from it. Waiting that long for that moment, and you think to yourself will this really change? Will getting married change anything in my life?

"I think for us this last year has been amazing and deepened our relationship and deepened our love. It has benefitted our lives in so many different ways."

To celebrate their first year of marriage, they will join friends, family, members of their legal team -- including attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson -- and others Saturday at a wedding celebration in Beverly Hills. Zarrillo and Katami both moved to Southern California from different parts of the country, so the event is their first opportunity to celebrate with "lots of cake and lots of champagne" with family members present.

"We are going to celebrate how normal falling in love and getting married is," said Zarrillo.

A blow-out party was one of the stipulations attached to the couple's decision to get married as soon as possible after the court's June 26 announcement, just part of a whirlwind week.

Last year, after waiting for two days in Washington, D.C., for the ruling, a smiling Zarrillo and Katami celebrated the decision hand in hand on the steps in front of the Supreme Court building before flying back to Southern California.

"When we walked down the Supreme Court steps last year, it was kind of an out-of-body experience, but Jeff and I had a moment where I said stop and just take this in for a moment because we are living this right now," said Katami.

They were married two days later in a ceremony broadcast live on television with the mayor at Los Angeles City Hall.

Their experience as plaintiffs in the case, like that of Stier and Perry, is featured in the newly released HBO documentary "The Case Against 8."

According to the American Foundation for Equal Rights, since the June 2013 decision, all 11 federal opinions that struck down same-sex marriage bans have cited the decision in Perry v. Hollingsworth -- the case in which Katami, Zarrillo and a Bay Area couple were plaintiffs. But both said there is still work to be done.

"As long as there is one person in America that does not have full federal equality, we have a lot of work to do," Zarrillo said. "Fortunately, because of what has gone on in the last year we have a little  bit of a platform, so we are trying to use our voices for good."

Jake and Rico Navarrete-Villalba, Gilroy

For Jake and Rico Navarrete-Villalba, who had already held their own private wedding ceremony long before the state of California got around to recognizing it, an official wedding just corroborated for the rest of the world what they already knew.

Jake, 50, and Rico, 45, met five years ago while Rico was battling cancer. On August 18, 2012, they professed their commitment to each other in a wedding ceremony at home before 200 loved ones — including their four kids and five grandchildren.

But it was after Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, a friend of Jake's, officially married them on July 1, 2013, that they began to feel the practical effects of marriage.

Filing their taxes was easier. So was receiving veterans' health benefits. So would it be for Jake to take time off work to care for Jake's health. And they now weren't just business partners co-owning Salon NV of Willow Glen, but a married couple.

“No one can dispute it," Rico said. "We're taken a little more seriously."

The Navarrete-Villalbas know the Supreme Court's ruling, and the door it opened for them to wed, didn't erase the hurdles gay Californians face in their struggle for equality — but it did serve as a reminder of what they can achieve, and emboldened them to speak up for it.

Rico recounted a difficult confrontation with a hotel manager on a visit to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, this past year.

"The hotel manager made the comment, 'Why do you need a king-sized bed?' I told her, 'We're married. The federal government recognizes it,'" he recalled.

To Rico, that encounter was telling — not just of the challenges that remain, but of the need to speak up for equality, to teach it to younger generations and to encourage not just the acceptance but the embrace of couples like him and Jake.

But for all the resistance, Rico says, he believes the fact of his marriage has forced plenty of Americans to confront truths they otherwise might not have.

"When people hear that you have a legal marriage, they look at it differently," he explained. "They may not believe in it, but they look at it differently."

For now, Jake and Rico are preparing to celebrate their multiple wedding anniversaries. At least, Rico hopes Jake won't pick just one. "He needs to do multiple, because I like gifts!” he said with a laugh.

They'll soon travel to Mexico, along with Jake's mother, to celebrate one of those anniversaries and to remind themselves of what their newly official marriage means for them, and what was there all along.

"I look at my marriage with Jake, and I think of when I was a 12-year-old boy, looking at my grandmother and saying, 'Is anyone ever going to love me?'" Rico said. "I'm now with that one person. You don't have to prove it to me: He loves me for me. It's the type of love that lasts for a lifetime."

Annie and Sylvia Parkhurst, Long Beach
Annie Parkhurst and Sylvia Rodemeyer had been to the same Long Beach coffee shop for three consecutive days in June 2013 to watch television and wait for the Supreme Court's ruling on Prop 8.

When the decision was announced, three years after Parkhurst had proposed to Rodemeyer at an anti-Prop 8 rally in Long Beach, the couple finally felt what they described one year later as "overwhelming happiness."
"It was really wild, because it felt like it was such an easy thing," said Annie Parkhurst. "There was so much hard work, and then those simple words from the court. It was overwhelming, overwhelming happiness."
But instead of immediately rushing to a courthouse for the necessary paperwork, they waited three more months for a date that was already significant in their lives: Sept. 30. It was on that day two years earlier that they had first celebrated with friends at a private wedding ceremony.

The three-month wait may have been a good thing — because despite having wed once before, they soon realized they had no idea what they were doing.

"We were so shocked, we didn't know what to do! We had no idea how to make a wedding legal," Annie said. "We were such dorks. We had to figure out how to do that."
Their second ceremony was a simple sunset affair on the same Long Beach bluff where they'd held the previous one, and where Annie had proposed to Sylvia.
The same friend officiated, and many of the same friends were there to share in the couple's joy. But this time, the Parkhursts got a marriage certificate from the state of California.

Now, the certificate is framed and hanging on a wall in their Southern California home. Annie says it serves as a reminder to them both of the couples who came before them, including people like Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that brought down the Defense of Marriage Act, who had lost a partner before the ruling came down.
"I know it's silly to think piece of paper could mean that much. It was well deserved," Annie said. "It was the end of that five, six years of marching and shouting and making our case, and just being able to hold our hands together."

Jim Illig and Larry Dotz, San Francisco

Jim Illig started hearing from a lot of people from his past after he and Larry Dotz, his partner of 26 years, became each other's husbands last year at San Francisco City Hall.

Their marriage in the wake of the Prop. 8 ruling was televised, and his face was everywhere.

It was a face thousands of people may have recognized. Over the years, he had met at least 10,000 people – many of them straight couples he had officially wed as a volunteer deputy marriage commissioner.

One man who tracked him down wrote to him that his wife had been "appalled" when she had seen on television that he had married a man. But the man had convinced his wife that marriage between two men was just as “OK” as marriage between a man and a woman, and eventually his wife had come around, Illig said.

"It had a positive outcome," Illig said.

The year after their very public wedding has “been great” for Illig, a community benefit manager for Kaiser Permanente, and Dotz, a product development and sourcing manager for Levi Strauss & Co.

The two are now filing joint taxes and were hit with at least a $1,000 marriage penalty, which Illig said he was happy to pay, as it was emblematic of something worth far more. “I'm glad we have the right to be recognized,” he said.

For their anniversary, the couple plans to have dinner at their favorite restaurant: Commonwealth, on Mission Street in San Francisco.

Alana Forrest and Melissa Myers, San Jose

The power of semantics, symbols and small daily pleasures may be what have struck Alana Forrest, 52, and Melissa Myers, 46, most about their entry into married life almost one year ago.

The couple married in San Jose on July 1 last year, the first day the city opened its doors to gay couples seeking marriage licenses, after almost a decade together.

"Just being able to use the term 'wife' without quotes really does make a difference," said Myers, the vice president of operations for a consulting company. "Before, people would ask, 'Really? Is she really your wife?' Now, it's not a question."

Forrest, a retired police captain who is now director of security for Pixar, shares that joy in the power of the words "wife" and "marriage," and has developed a newfound love of paperwork.

"I now check all the boxes on any freakin' form, like at the doctor’s office or whatever," Forrest said, "that say we're married."

For a couple who have spent a decade together, one year being married has changed little else, they say — except, Forrest says, for the way she now just feels "complete."

But even as their relationship has remained steady, they've seen the attitudes and words of other people shift in the last year.

"People I know will say, 'Right on!'" Myers said, after she introduces Forrest as her wife.

Forrest thinks the Supreme Court's ruling has affected her straight friends’ marriages, too, giving them reason to think more seriously about their own.

"Some of them have told me that they're stepping up their game because they saw how hard we fought to have our marriage," Forrest said.

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