On court’s steps, vivid display of American society
By JEREMY W. PETERS
The New York Times | March 27,2013
New York Times Photo
Protesters in support of and against same-sex marriage gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Tuesday.
WASHINGTON — Few places draw such disparate cross sections of American society as the steps of the Supreme Court at a moment of judicial consequence.
And Tuesday the steps were where one could find a home-schooled family from Iowa, a group of Catholic schoolchildren on a field trip and throngs of Pentecostal parishioners crossing paths with a newly engaged lesbian couple from Ohio, a man with HIV and a drag queen.
They all turned up for a mostly civil exercise of free speech outside the court as the justices inside began considering the first of two cases that could lead to profound changes in the way gays and lesbians are treated under the law.
“It’s a political circus, a wonderful political circus,” said Allen Ritter, 45, who slept outside the court for days so he could get inside to hear the case argued. “And it could only happen in Washington, D.C.”
Representing those who oppose giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry were thousands of religious conservatives who marched up the National Mall in a demonstration that resembled a church procession, complete with flowing banners, signs citing Scripture and members of the clergy leading the way.
On the other side of the issue were thousands of gay men and lesbians — some who had married and others who said they wished to someday — and their supporters, who came to witness a moment they said they hoped would become their Brown v. Board of Education.
Two local residents, Mike McFarland, 60, and his husband, Larry Baxley, 45, will have been married for one year on Saturday. (The District of Columbia and nine states allow same-sex marriage.) As they stood outside the court Tuesday morning, Baxley held up a dry-erase board on which he had written “We Are Married.”
McFarland reflected on how strange it would have seemed to him as a child growing up in Tennessee in the 1960s to hear that the Supreme Court was considering letting gay people get married.
“When I came out when I lived in Memphis, if two men were caught dancing in a bar they would get arrested,” he said. “It’s amazing. I never felt I’d live to see this day.”
Standing down the block was Fred Smith, 53, who was holding up a sign that said, “Don’t be on the wrong side of history” and was covered with black-and-white pictures of the segregated South.
“Being African-American, you are trained at an early age how to deal with people’s stupidity,” said Smith, who said he is HIV-positive and attended his first gay rights march in 1981. “But you aren’t really trained how to deal with that when your sexuality is concerned. Back then, it was just about being able to work and eat. We could only live in places like West Hollywood so we wouldn’t be attacked.”
Shannon Glatz, 32, drove to Washington from Akron, Ohio, on Monday night. She said she planned to return to the Supreme Court grounds June 21 and marry her fiancee whether the court affirms a right to same-sex marriage or not.
“This would mean my girlfriend and I are looked at as a legitimate couple,” she said, “not just as roommates.”
Not far from Glatz danced a drag queen wearing a rainbow tutu, a pink fishnet top and devil horns. Her sign — a taunt to those who condemn homosexuality as a sin — read, “I bet Hell is fabulous.”
Just down Capitol Hill, demonstrators who oppose same-sex marriage were making their way up to the Supreme Court as the arguments at the court got under way.
Among them were the Wackers of Garner, Iowa, who used the march, along with trips to tour the Capitol and a few museums, as a civics lesson for their home-schooled children.
“It could be a Roe v. Wade type of decision,” said Cindy Wacker, 40. “I wouldn’t want to look back and say I wish I could have done something. This is something I can do by being here and marching and praying.”
“If we don’t do something now,” she added, “maybe we might lose marriage in our country, and I don’t want my kids to grow up without marriage — one man and one woman.”
Some of the people at the march, like the Wackers, came on their own. Many others were bused in by their churches or made the trip as part of a spring break excursion with their families. A Roman Catholic group called the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property brought a marching band that played, among other songs, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Some came on school field trips, like a group of about 30 students from Pope John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries, Va.
Their opposition to same-sex marriage was rooted in a wide range of different beliefs: the biblical family unit of a man and a woman, the fact that only couples of the opposite sex can procreate, a desire to see government stay out of marriage law and even concern that the country was cowing too much to the will of the politically correct.
Kevin Baechle, who took the train from Ohio with his two daughters and wife, said he was concerned that families with same-sex partners would lose perspective. “I have certain perspectives and ideas,” he said. “And my wife has certain perspectives and ideas. And we need both.”
His 15-year-old daughter, who had already attended another march on Washington to oppose abortion, spoke up. “Can I say something, Dad?” she asked. He nodded.
“You need a mom and a dad to make a child,” Maggie said. “You can’t have a dad and a dad just say, ‘Oh, we’re going to have a kid.’ That’s not how it works. I need Dad to get the perspective to be stronger, and I needed Mom to have the perspective on how to act. And I know if we didn’t have Dad I’d be lost, and if I didn’t have Mom I’d be lost, too.”