Many demonstrations are held at the US Supreme
Court, but few are as diverse as the ones held Tuesday when the nine
justices heard arguments on California's gay marriage ban.
Catholic nuns dressed in habits stood with their backs to a gaudy transvestite wearing gay pride rainbow colours in a crinoline skirt. Other demonstrators dressed in red T-shirts proclaiming their support for "holy matrimony."
The posters and banners held high in the morning sun also spoke of the diversity among the participants. The messages ranged from short and extremist - America is Doomed! and God Hates Fags - to long, but straightforward - The Nation Is Ready for Marriage Equality.
One pro-gay marriage demonstrator found some irony in the issue, holding a poster: Jesus Had Two Fathers And He Turned Out OK. Another was philosophical: Marriage Predates Christianity. It's Not Yours to Define.
First on the scene were gay marriage supporters, who began their event on the sidewalk in front of the neoclassical court about an hour before arguments began. Dozens of speakers, including politicians, gay rights advocates and gay couples addressed the supportive crowd.
Their speeches appealed for "the fundamental right of people to marry" and called for an end to the complicated situation of having a marriage license that is recognized in one state, but not in another. A military couple whose union has been partially acknowledged by the army and openly gay clergymen argued for acceptance.
But their speeches were nearly drowned out by a noisy procession of gay marriage opponents filing passed the Supreme Court building.
Barry Sullivan, 54, of Gaithersburg, Maryland used the march to confront supporters of gay marriage lining the route.
"This is what I ask them: What about three or four people marrying - polygamy? Is that OK, too?" Sullivan said. "What if a paedophile argues he was born that way? Should that be protected by the constitution?"
Sullivan said another reason he opposes same-sex marriage is his conviction that it promotes a gay lifestyle. The gay movement "wants to push it in the public schools," he said, and he finds that offensive.
Others agreed with Sullivan that redefining marriage to include same-sex unions threatens the fabric of society.
"The definition of marriage should not be changed," said Ellen Staniszewski of Bowie, Maryland. "If you change marriage, you change society."
Staniszewski, in her 60s, said the threat to society starts in schools with curriculum that teaches children about gay lifestyle.
"They want the opportunity to open the door to have access to the children to teach them about gayness," she said. "That is why we are fighting it. They are telling kids it's good to be gay."
Another marcher, Kathy Johnson, 58, said she came from Hickory, North Carolina on one of three chartered buses just for the march. Johnson, a member of the Coalition of African American Pastors, said she opposed gay marriage on religious grounds and said she felt it had caused a "great divide" in the country.
Referring to a "shift in the spiritual climate," she said she was dismayed over politicians, including President Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, coming out in favour of gay marriage.
"Our moral values are plummeting, and based on history, a nation will eventually fall when that happens," Johnson said.
Though the opponents' march partially disrupted the proponents' event, they appeared slightly outnumbered by the supporters.
Many shared the views of Sarah Erb, who stood opposite the podium used for pro-gay marriage speakers holding a sign urging marriage equality for all. She described herself as a straight 27-year-old pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
She said her motivation to support gay marriage was rooted largely in the exposure she has had through her studies to gay people who have faced discrimination.
"I see how inequality negatively effects people psychologically and emotionally. I think it's a basic right and I want to be part of getting us to that place."
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