The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in two cases dealing with same-sex marriage. People from around the country traveled to the nation’s capital to participate in opposing rallies.
The day started early on Tuesday in front of the Supreme Court for same-sex marriage advocates and opponents alike.
The Court heard two cases this week having to do with the right of same-sex couples to marry. The first deals with Proposition 8, a voter initiative passed in 2008 by California voters that prohibits same-sex marriage. The act has since been ruled unconstitutional by two federal courts.
The second case takes on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996. The law defines marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman, effectively denying legally married same sex couples from obtaining federal rights and benefits.
Activists on both sides of the issue gathered in Washington. Directly in front of the court, a rally organized by several LGBT rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign and OutServe SLDN drew hundreds of participants.
Supporters from across the country traveled to DC to make their voices heard. Casey McLaughlin, the spouse of an army major, traveled from Massachusetts to share how DOMA affects her family.
“We are a military family, like any other military family, and yet I am not eligible for the family healthcare plan. I would not be eligible for survivor benefits because on paper, I’m a legal stranger because of DOMA,” she said. “And that is absolutely atrocious, considering that [my wife] has served the public for over 15 years.”
Jeanine Roucher, from Maryland, held a sign showing her church’s support for same-sex marriage. Roucher is a member of the United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination that supports the LGBT community.
“Everybody deserves the same. It shouldn’t matter who you want to marry. I think what matters is the love, and that’s what we should be teaching our children. And if it doesn’t start at the top, with our country and with our Supreme Court, where does it start?” Roucher stated.
Those on the other side of the issue also turned out. A rally sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage took place about a half a mile away on the National Mall. The group describes itself as “a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it.” They are opposed to same sex marriage.
The group’s president, Brian Brown, opened the rally with songs and chanting.
“Can you say, ‘one man, one woman?’ You’re going to be hearing that a lot today, and I hope that the Supreme Court justices will be hearing that a lot today because of you,” he said. “Because of you, they’re going to see what the people of this country believe about marriage!”
Brown introduced a 16-year-old, Danny Cannon from Arlington, Va., to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Later, Cannon expressed his support for what he called traditional marriage. “I’m here because I think it’s important for children to have a mother and a father, and I think we need to show the Supreme Court that that’s what many Americans believe.”
He continued, “I think that, certainly, young people who are for gay marriage are by far the…much more vocal. And I think there is a large number of young people who are afraid to say that they support traditional marriage. Because people are bullied. People are bullied into silence, and young people who support traditional marriage need to stand up and show their support.”
NOM’s rally consisted of people from across the country. A good portion of the crowd was from New York State Senator Ruben Diaz’s district in the Bronx. He brought 32 buses full of advocates against same sex marriage to attend the rally. These groups sang religious songs in both English and Spanish.
A religious leader himself, Diaz was a vocal opponent of New York State’s push to legalize same-sex marriage almost two years ago, putting him at odds with most of his fellow Democrats.
Brown, NOM’s president, said he was ecstatic with the turnout, estimating that there were over 10,000 people present. He said the turnout was much bigger than he expected. Estimates put the actual turnout at around 2,000 people.
“The court has to respect the reality that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that we’ve had 31 states vote on this issue,” Brown said. “They can’t throw those votes in the dustbin of history. Our votes have to be respected, that’s the number one civil right. Respect our vote, listen to the people.”
Last November, three states, Maine, Maryland, and Washington, had same-sex marriage on their ballots. All three ballot initiatives passed, marking the first time in history same-sex marriage has won at the polls. Minnesota voters also voted not to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Brown seemed undaunted by these votes. “Those were the deepest of deep blue states. But even there, we outperformed the Republican presidential ticket by about 6.8 points. So, marriage is a winning issue. We ended up losing in the deepest of deep blue states, but we’re gonna win more fights.”
A recent poll by The Washington Post shows that about 58 percent of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage.
Brown was confident that the court would come down on his side, comparing the decision to Roe v Wade. “Remember, before Roe, legal prognosticators were saying, ‘Well once the court rules, this is done.’ Did that end up working out? No, we have a polarized, divided country. The court should not short-circuit the democratic process.”
The group marched to the Supreme Court, where they met with same-sex marriage advocates and had to be escorted by police through the street.
The meeting was largely peaceful, but it still took about 30 minutes for NOM’s group to make it through the crowd of same-sex marriage proponents. At several points the march was forced to stop to regroup, and some kneeled to pray.
The march continued back to the mall, where more speakers took to the podium.
In the crowd, Christine Clark stood with a sign that said, “Kids do best with a mother and father.” She had traveled to the rally from northwestern Pennsylvania with her family.
“I’m a born again Christian and the Bible is the plum line of my faith, and the Bible is very clear on what marriage is between a man and a woman, and God created that from the very beginning in Genesis.”
But the American Psychological Association says on its website that “there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation,” and that “lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.”
Antonia Trofs-Leibman, a 12-year-old from Silver Spring, Md., wondered what traditional marriage advocates mean when they insist that children need a mother and a father. “It makes me feel kind of curious. And I want to see their opinion and I want to see why they think this way, and then I want to tell them why I think a different way.”
“I would tell them that if they think that [only] a man and a woman should get married, then look at my moms. They’re happy, I’m in advanced classes at my school, I play piano, I’m a star soccer person, I’m on the honor roll. I mean, I have a pretty good life, and you must have a great life too. But I’m saying that both of us have great lives. There’s nothing different.”
“I’m here to represent my parents, and my family, and three generations worth of happiness and love,” she said.
The Court’s decisions in these cases could have far reaching effects on families across the country, but it appears public opinion could remain split for a long time to come. The justices are due to release their opinions in late June.
WAMC News Intern Eric Krupke is a senior at the State University of New York at Albany, where he majors in documentary studies.