The atmosphere was electric and the excitement and anticipation palpable, as over a thousand LGBTQ people from all across the country gathered in Washington D.C. for the historic marriage equality arguments before the United States Supreme Court Tuesday. Plaintiffs from over 30 cases, spanning three decades – from Hawaii to South Dakota to Florida – came to the District of Columbia to be there. LGBTQ people from all walks of life gathered to witness, and participate, in history. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence stood beside young LGBTQ couples with babies nestled on their backs. LGBTQ people in their 80s and a diverse array of LGBTQ and supportive religious leaders came. A teenage son of lesbian moms proudly held a sign up high that said “I have 2 moms – Life is good!” as he stood aside his younger brother and sister.
High school students in town for the annual “constitution” competition, testing their knowledge of American law, were thrilled to meet the people whose lives these cases would directly affect and clearly bewildered and disturbed by the bizarre and hurtful things the smattering of opponents kept yelling. A young lesbian held a sign: “Lesbian girls just want to have FUNdamental rights.” Indeed, a cross section of our diverse community came to Washington to demand just that: our fundamental Constitutional rights. Those of us gathered felt a profound sense of pride when we looked up and saw the brave LGBTQ people who are plaintiffs in the cases, with their attorneys, ascend the Supreme Court’s gleaming white marble steps. They sought what LGBTQ and countless other Americans have sought throughout our nation’s history: fulfillment of the promise etched atop the Supreme Court building itself: “Equal Justice Under Law.”
Inside, the Justices pounded the attorneys on both sides of the case with myriad questions, with the Justices often interrupting each other. We were heartened by the fact that a majority of the Justices’ questions and comments seemed to recognize that having equal access to marriage was critical to LGBTQ people’s dignity. Several of the Justices appeared skeptical of the opponents’ arguments that marriage for LGBTQ couples would somehow cause heterosexuals to no longer marry or not to have children in marriage. Other questions suggested that a majority of Justices perceived accurately that the issue in the cases is the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage – and not, as opponents claim, simply a benign choice to have marriage only for different-sex couples.
After every Supreme Court argument, people attempt to predict the outcome of the case and what the legal reasoning of the opinion will be. Accurately foreseeing such matters is impossible, and unfortunately, it’s very likely that we will have to wait until the last week of June when the Court annually issues its landmark decisions. Two years ago, the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor eloquently articulated the harm DOMA caused to same-sex couples’ essential human dignity, although the Court asked no particular questions on the subject during its hearing on that case. The Court has received over 75 briefs from plaintiff couples, myriad LGBTQ people and organizations, and other active allies. The briefs comprehensively cover every argument regarding LGBTQ people and marriage equality.
For us and many other LGBT San Franciscans – and in many ways the nation – the journey to full nationwide equality began in full 11 years ago on the steps of San Francisco City Hall when then Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the door for same-sex couples to marry. Over a decade later that journey has taken us to the steps of the United States Supreme Court. We look to the Court to open the door to nationwide marriage equality, the culmination of this phase of the journey to full equality for LGBTQ people in every aspect of their lives.
We also offer you this article by Josh Newville of Madia Law, LLC on the background leading up to the marriage cases at the U.S. Supreme Court. Newville is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the South Dakota marriage case: 2015-03-31 The Supreme Court To Address Marriage Equality Litigation by Joshua A. Newville Madia Law LLC
John Lewis (left) and his husband Stuart Gaffney were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. John is an attorney and is the MEUSA Legal & Policy Director. He is the primary author of the Amicus Brief MEUSA submitted to SCOTUS.
All photos taken by MEUSA MultiMedia Director Paul Carey at the Unite for Marriage Rally outside the United States Supreme Court on 28 April 2015.
1st photo: Rally crowd in front of SCOTUS.
2nd photo: Plaintiffs exiting the Court just after the hearing.
3rd photo: MEUSA ED Brian Silva speaking to the crowd.
4th photo: John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney being interviewed in front of the Court.