If those inside the Supreme Court building peeked out the window toward the street Tuesday morning, they would catch quite the scene: They would see activists wielding shofars and bullhorns while drag queens danced along the sidewalk. They would read signs that say, "Kids Do Best With a Mom and Dad!" and "Jesus had two dads and he turned out fine." They would hear bagpipers, marching bands, and endless shouts and taunts. They would even see some tears and punches thrown.
Thousands of demonstrators converged for a brief period in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday while the justices inside heard oral arguments over the constitutionality of a voter-approved California state law that banned same-sex marriage.
Earlier Tuesday morning, a few thousand activists who oppose same-sex marriage gathered just over a mile from the court building on the National Mall to prepare to march through the streets toward the courthouse steps. Sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage, a coalition of ethnically diverse churches from at least 15 states met for the morning rally and march.
Before they began the walk toward the court, NOM President Brian Brown warned them about what they might encounter ahead. He urged the group not to push back if counter-demonstrators engaged them. If they should encounter resistance along the way, Brown said, just kneel down in the street and pray.
"There may be those that have hatred in their hearts on either side of the issue that attempt to engage you. We need to never retaliate," Brown said. "We need to remember those great leaders in the civil rights movement like Dr. King and others that this is peaceful, respectful, and if other people want to be disrespectful, we're going to ignore them and move forward because we know the truth. I've gotten a report that along the way there is a group called Westboro Baptist Church that have the most hateful, vile signs condemning homosexuals and others. That is not our group. That is not what we believe, and we condemn in the strongest terms any hatred toward any individual in any way."
After the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem and a prayer, the group began to walk toward the court. A woman in a wheelchair who identified herself as Rabbi Hadassah led the way while blowing a shofar, an instrument made out of a ram's horn.
"One man! One woman!," the group chanted while they walked toward the court. "Un hombre! Una mujer!"
When they reached the street of the court building, the group saw both sides of the sidewalk filled with thousands of chanting pro-gay marriage advocates bearing signs and flags. As they turned the corner toward the court, a woman, Carmen Guzman from McClain, Va., ran up to the front and stopped them in their tracks.
"I've been bullied for 51 years," Guzman said. "Today's my day!"
Guzman halted the march from reaching the steps of the court for several minutes. Eventually, she relented and the march carried on toward the sound of the opposing side chanting, "Gay, straight black or white, everyone deserves a civil right!"
When the NOM marchers reached the front of the court building, they knelt down in the street to pray. Near the front of the crowd, a draq queen in a red wig and devil's horns on his head wearing a rainbow tutu danced to club music from a nearby loudspeaker. With a Christian cross in his hand, he weaved his way through the group and danced while the anti-gay marriage demonstrators prayed.
When members of the crowd rose, they pressed on further down the street, where they were met by another small group of people that had stretched out a rainbow flag in front of them. When they refused to budge from the street, NOM organizers urged everyone to just go around them. A NOM demonstrator began arguing with one of the men holding the flag, Sergei Kostin, and tried to push him out of the way. Kostin said the NOM marcher hit him in the stomach, so in retaliation, Kostin raised his fist and punched the man in the face. After a scuffle between members of both groups, the NOM marchers moved on and Kostin remained in the street holding the flag.
Beyond that incident, both rallies were generally peaceful, but emotions still ran high.
Near the end of NOM's rally in front of the court, a man walked through the crowd in tears. "If we do not repent of our sins, we will not recover. America will not recover," the man, who identified himself as Robert from Maryland, said. "Time's running out. This is the 11th hour. We have today and we have tomorrow."
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