WASHINGTON — Being a witness to history can be messy business. And for those waiting outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday for one of the few coveted tickets to hear oral arguments in a pair of same-sex marriage cases this week, it was also cold, wet and tedious.
“Yeah, this is just not comfortable,” said Taylor Carter, a 19-year-old college student, who was trying to stay dry underneath a large blue tarpaulin that was barely shielding her and her 12-year-old brother and 15-year-old sister from the slushy mixture falling from the sky. “Being cold isn’t so bad. But being wet and cold is the worst.”
A spring snowstorm that blew through the capital on Monday seemed to do little to deter an eager few dozen people from huddling under soggy sleeping bags, plastic tarpaulins and oversize umbrellas as they counted down the final hours before the arguments began on Tuesday morning on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which overturned same-sex marriage there in 2008. The second case, scheduled for Wednesday morning, deals with the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Some had been waiting in line since Thursday night, moved by a sense of history and civic purpose. Others, like the Carters, had more a profitable reason: They were being paid to wait for someone else.
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“It’s enough,” Taylor Carter said, declining to say how much she was being paid.
In today’s real-time culture of live Web streams and up-to-the-second Twitter updates, oral arguments before the Supreme Court remain sealed off from the digital world, making tickets for the approximately 400 seats inside the courtroom precious commodities.
All electronic devices are banned. The only public record of the proceedings other than a transcript is an audio recording, which the court will not release until after the arguments have concluded.
The majority of the tickets are held for people with special connections, like being a member of the Supreme Court Bar, a journalist or a justice’s guest. Chief Justice John Roberts’ cousin, who is lesbian, told the Los Angeles Times that she planned to attend as his guest.
About 100 seats will be reserved for those who stand in line — or who pay someone to. The court’s public-information office said that about 60 to 70 of those are reserved for people who can view the entire argument, while the rest are for people who rotate in groups to watch for 3 to 5 minutes each.
Despite the miserable weather outside, the faithful on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate were drawing inspiration Monday from their surroundings.
“You’ve got to stand in front of your issue,” said Aaron Black, 39, who came from New York with a group of same-sex marriage supporters on a bus.
Pointing to the Supreme Court’s columned front, Black said: “Frankly the issue is right there. On the Supreme Court building it says ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ ”
Black and about 10 others had parked themselves in front of the Supreme Court steps on brightly colored plastic lounge chairs — orange, green, blue and pink, all with American flags attached. They had slept there overnight.
Sitting under an umbrella about 15 feet away was Nicole Hudgens, 24.
Hudgens said that she realized that her opposition to same-sex marriage made her something of a rarity among her peers.
“I do know some people who are homosexual, yes,” she said. “At the same time, I believe rights were endowed to us by our creator, and our creator has a certain definition of marriage,” she said. “And I’m going to stick with that.”