Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Docket Draws Crowds

Pro-gay marriage forces won the real estate battle in front of the Supreme Court Tuesday on the first of two days of arguments on the subject inside the court. On the National Mall, a rally was held for traditional marriage.

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When the Supreme Court hears arguments on politically hot topics like same-sex marriage, as it's doing this week, the plaza and sidewalks in front of the high court are jammed with demonstrators on both sides of the issue. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea was there this time around and has this report.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Pro-gay marriage forces won the real estate battle in front of the Supreme Court yesterday as the first of two days of oral arguments inside the courtroom arrived. They staked out prime sidewalk spots early and filled that side of the street.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine...

GONYEA: This was still more than an hour before the court proceedings would begin.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING)

GONYEA: But also present, though in smaller numbers, anti-gay marriage protestors. Chanting became competitive. When arguments and the crowds spilled into the streets, police would step in.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD NOISE)

GONYEA: And shortly after 9 a.m., speeches backing same-sex marriage got underway.

JOHN LEWIS: Thank you so much. My name is John Lewis and this is my loving, committed, legally married husband, Stuart Gaffney. We are wearing the tuxedos that we got married in on June 17, 2008 in California, before Proposition 8.

GONYEA: Proposition 8, approved by California voters, banned same-sex marriage. Speaker after speaker portrayed gay marriage as a civil right. It was about 9:30 a.m. when a large group of anti-gay marriage protestors arrived in the form of a big march down First Street in front of the court.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING DRUMS)

GONYEA: Marchers Mike and Kathy Foeckler are from Front Royal, Virginia.

KATHY FOECKLER: It's not a right for these people to get married and raise children. It's not a right. Every child has a right to have a mom and dad, but not two dads or two moms. It's insane.

GONYEA: He, meanwhile, said he doesn't believe polling that shows fast-growing support for gay marriage.

MIKE FOECKLER: And they say the majority of people are for this. I'd like to understand what those polls are asking because I firmly believe that the majority of Americans are pro-life, pro-marriage.

GONYEA: The so-called march for marriage eventually headed past the court and back to the National Mall, where a few thousand people had gathered.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Test one two. Can you hear me? Come on, everybody. Shout hallelujah.

GONYEA: They challenged the claim that same-sex marriage is a civil right. They heard from the reverend Bill Owens of Memphis who says he was part of the march for freedom 50 years ago.

THE REV. BILL OWENS: I marched and many other thousands of people marched in this same location years ago on the claim that we were being discriminated against. And today the other community is trying to say that they are suffering the same thing that we suffered. But I tell you they are not.

GONYEA: Also speaking was the Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone.

SALVATORE CORDILEONE: Only a man can be a father and only a woman can be a mother. I find it hard to believe that I have to stand here and say that. You know, it's like - anyone home?

GONYEA: The other dominant theme from this rally and opposition to same-sex marriage? That no matter how the court rules, their movement is not going away. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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