Three days before justices will hear oral arguments on California’s Proposition 8, supporters of marriage equality were already lined up before the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday to ensure they’ll have a seat for the historic event.
Jeffrey DeSoto, a gay 33-year-old computer programmer from New York, stood cross-legged in line next to his sign reading: “I AM A 2ND CLASS CITIZEN: NOH8.” Near him was his sleeping bag, air mattress, blanket and solar cell to charge his cell phone.
“New York State does have marriage equality, but I would want marriage equality across the entire country,” DeSoto said. “That’s an outside outcome to this, but it is there, so I definitely would want to have been at the case where that happens.”
Jordan Haedtler, a straight 24-year-old resident of Oakland, Calif., said he’s closely watched the Prop 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, from its beginnings and attended oral arguments in the case when they were before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I’m kind of a public policy and politics junkie,” Haedtler said. “I’ve been to several oral arguments in other cases as well, but this case holds a lot of importance for me because I really think that gay rights and marriage equality are one of the main civil rights issues of our time.”
As of Saturday afternoon, about 15 people were camped out outside the building awaiting entry to Tuesday’s hearing. Wearing coats and hats to keep warm in a lingering winter cold, those in line occupied themselves with journal writing, conversation and newspaper reading to pass the time.
For DeSoto, simply coming early on Tuesday morning wasn’t enough. He arrived Friday afternoon to wait in line before the Supreme Court with days remaining before the arguments for an assurance he would have access to the courtroom.
“Actually, I did a little research,” DeSoto said. “I found the names of people who waited in line for the Affordable Care Act, and then I found them on Facebook and messaged a couple of them. One girl messaged me back, and I asked her how far in advance she had come. I think she said four days, so I pretty much tried to match that.”
DeSoto said those waiting in line have a “good amount of camaraderie.” As if living in a commune on the sidewalk of First Street, he said they’re offering food to each other and keeping an eye on each other’s possessions as they wait.
Among them are a gay couple seeking a ruling in favor of their marriage rights; college students with an affinity for legal cases and equality issues; a group of older black men at the front of the line played a game of dominoes to pass the time.
Tyrone Henderson, a 48-year-old D.C. resident, talked about his personal support for marriage equality as he glanced over the Metro section of the Washington Post.
“I think people should have the choice of what they want to do,” Henderson said. “You should be able to be with who you want to be with instead of trying to predict who you should be with. I figure you should have the choice whether you want to marry a man or a woman.”
Each of the people in line was a supporter of marriage equality. No opponents of marriage rights for gay couples were waiting outside and braving the chilly weather to attend the arguments. There was one protester who was wearing a sandwich sign, but he was speaking out against the Obama administration’s extrajudicial killing of suspected terrorists overseas by drone attack.
DeSoto said he was heckled by a passer-by who deemed marriage rights for gay couples an unimportant issue.
“I did have one person come by — a heckler, a dissident, whatever,” DeSoto said. “He didn’t like my sign. He pretty much said marriage equality was not a serious issue and that we’re all throwing a hissy fit.”
Those in line were also undaunted by weather reports indicating that they would be snowed upon as they awaited a place in the courtroom. Differing forecasts ranged from cold rain to a few inches of snow on Sunday and Monday.
Darienn Powers, a 19-year-old straight student from the State University of New York at New Paltz, said she came early in the morning on Saturday prepared in the event of inclement weather.
“I’ve heard that it might be snowing,” Powers said. “I’m wearing my rubberized rain boots, so my feet will be dry, and I have an umbrella. Otherwise, I’m just taking it as it comes.”
A common theme among those waiting in line was a plan to stay for oral arguments for Prop 8 on Tuesday, but leave without attending the arguments on Wednesday for the Defense of Marriage Act. The reasoning — aside from the need to return to work — was the belief the Prop 8 proceedings were more historic than the DOMA case.
Still, that didn’t take away from the historic nature of what they’d be able to see on the first day of oral arguments on marriage equality.
Dexter Smith, a gay junior political science major at Georgia State University, said he expects an intense experience on that day for those on both sides of the marriage equality movement.
“I think it’s going to be packed,” Smith said. “You’re going to have protesters out here. People saying crazy things; you already having people saying crazy things. It’s going to be crazy, and I just want to be here to be in the thick of things.”