The pro-gay crowd in front of the Supreme Court steps had been quietly polite all morning, listening to speakers like Rep. Eleanor Homes Norton explaining why they supported marriage equality, holding up their signs that said things like "Straight Supporter" and "Equality for All." There were so many people that the crowd overflowed across the street onto the Capitol lawn.
Then the National Organization for Marriage started marching down 1st Street. And the crowd got angry. Following the example of reporters, those in favor of marriage equality strode past the police line keeping the two sides separate and into the street to directly confront those that were holding signs saying things like, "Kids Deserve a Mom and Dad."
"This is stupid. it's a stupid thing to say," one pro-gay man shouted to a woman with one of the signs. "What about all the kids who are homeless, gay kids, whose parents kicked them out? Where was their Mom and Dad then?"
There was a rumor that a man wearing a rainbow flag had punched a NOM marcher after being provoked; I witnessed several people yelling at each other, their faces inches away.
But most interactions were peaceful, if loud. A drag queen danced into the street in a pink net bodysuit and tutu, followed by a man holding a boom box playing Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." She was greeted with wild cheers and applause. One mother in the NOM crowd put her hands over her daughter's eyes when she came near.
For their part, the marriage equality crowd was electrified, chanting, shaking their signs. They lined both sides of the street as the anti-equality marchers struggled to get past. When the anti-marriage equality line started chanting "One Man, One Woman," the pro-gay side just chanted louder, drowning them out.
"Why are you here?" I asked people in the crowd over and over again. They said the same things - it was a historic day, it was a major civil rights case and they wanted to be there, they wanted the world to know that their relationships mattered. One woman had gone to the first March on Washington in 1979; a man held a collage of photos of the Black Civil Rights Movement because, he said, he has been part of both and he thought they were the same. I talked to high school students and senior citizens, people from California and Florida and across the country, people who had slept outside for four nights in order to hear the oral arguments and some tourists who had just happened upon the rally that day.
What was most striking is how confident people were of the outcome. They had faith in the judicial process - but they also had faith that, however the Supreme Court ruled on these two cases, marriage equality would come eventually. And sooner, rather than later.
The rally was held outside the Court during the oral arguments for the Proposition 8 case. Proposition 8 was a California ballot initiative in which a popular vote overturned the gay and lesbian right to marry in that state. Tomorrow, the Justices will hear arguments as to whether the federal government should recognize gay marriages performed in the nine states and the District of Columbia where they are legal.
After the arguments, the lawyers who have been working to overturn the anti-gay Prop 8 for four years stood on the steps of the Supreme Court in a scrum of press. When they appeared, the crowd cheered again. "What was remarkable," said lawyer Daid Boies, "is that the other side made no attempt to defend California's ban on same-sex marriage."
His colleague Ted Olson added, "We don't know what the United States Supreme Court will do, but we do know where the people are headed. Equality."
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