As the U.S. Supreme Court grappled with the California same-sex marriage ban known as Proposition 8, activists on both sides of the debate vied for attention, flooding the sidewalks and the street outside the court.
With chants, signs and speeches, supporters and opponents of gay marriage tried to make their case. Until about 10 a.m., same-sex marriage detractors were few and far between, leaving the sidewalks to scores of people with signs that included: "Marriage is a constitutional right" and "Full federal equality get equal."
The United for Marriage coalition, which backs gay marriage, worked to fire up the crowd with music and speakers including Republican strategist Margaret Hoover, Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry and Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)
"The Court must recognize all couples," she said. "There are no second-class citizens in America. And there are no second-class marriages in America."
Less than an hour after Norton spoke, opponents of gay marriage began to arrive en masse, marching down First Street to the Court. Carrying signs that said "Every child deserves a Mom & Dad!" and "Kids do best with a Mom and Dad!" and accompanied by bagpipers and drummers, the "March for Marriage" activists filled the street between two groups of same-sex marriage supporters, closing the road to traffic.
As they arrived in front of the Supreme Court building, some of the gay marriage opponents kneeled on the street and prayed, while police on foot and on motorcycles worked to keep the opposing sides from getting too close to each other. The police cleared the street after about a half-hour, and the anti-gay marriage protesters dwindled in size as they marched to the National Mall.
The march continued for 10 blocks to the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall, where a stage had been set up. Speakers, including several religious leaders, emphasized that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, called upon supporters of same-sex marriage to listen to opponents "fairly and calmly."
On Capitol Hill, there was no immediate reaction from Senate leaders. Congress is on its two week spring break. Likewise, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued no statement. House Republicans picked former solicitor general Paul Clement to defend DOMA after the White House decided to no longer defend the law, and the House has spent more than $1.5 million in legal fees for the fight.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) commented on the marriage equality during an event in Boston last night, once again calling the Defense of Marriage Act—up for debate before the high court tomorrow—an act of discrimination, WGBH reported. “I believe it is unconstitutional. I pray that it will be struck down,” Pelosi said.
The impending arguments did prompt several politicians to come out in support of marriage equality during the past month. They included senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.); and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), said changed his position to favor same-sex marriage because he’d learned his son is gay, according to news reports.
National Law Journal reporter Todd Ruger contributed to this report. Photo by The National Law Journal's Diego M. Radzinschi.