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Smaller, quieter crowd gathers for Supreme Court DOMA arguments

March 27, 2013|By Brian Bennett and Wes Venteicher

WASHINGTON — Television crews flipped on spotlights and pro-gay marriage activists erected a speaker’s podium in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning as the nine justices prepared to hear a second day of arguments about whether same-sex couples have a legal right to marry.

A line of lawyers, spectators and activists several hundred long stretched down the block to get into the courtroom. After the festival atmosphere during Tuesday’s session on California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, the crowd of a few hundred people was smaller and the mood was more muted on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday will weigh the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which says the federal government can recognize marriages only between men and women, and prevents married gay couples from receiving federal benefits intended to help wedded couples.

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Pro-gay marriage activists passed out American flags. A woman in a black leather jacket held up a sign with the words “Wake up from your DOMA coma" written in black marker. Protesters held homemade signs that read "God loves us all equally" and "Stand on the right side of history."

J. Mary Sorrell, 52, said she believed a decision to overturn the law would have a sweeping effect on the lives of gay couples who have already married. As a justice of the peace in Northampton, Mass., Sorrell has united 556 same-sex couples since the state began recognizing gay marriages.

There was a lot of "momentum" for the first day of arguments on Tuesday, Sorrell said. But, standing on the court steps holding a piece of black poster board with photos of five marriages she has officiated, she said, "I think today is the bigger deal."

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She said she knows many couples legally married in Massachusetts that have struggled with federal tax law, the denial of spousal benefits under Social Security and the "little insults," such as not being able to check a box for being married on federal forms.

"To eliminate that would be huge," she said.

Protesters from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., took a more prominent position at Wednesday's hearings, blasting anti-gay adaptations of pop songs near the court steps. The small church, whose members are primarily the pastor’s family and allies, is known for its incendiary anti-gay messages.  Members held signs saying same-sex couples deserve punishment and death.

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"In this nation, we’re not even discussing whether it’s a sin or not; we’re discussing whether they can be married. It’s simply not acceptable," said 18-year-old Westboro protester Isaac Hockenbarger.

Hockenbarger said he believes the debates mark the coming destruction of the United States by God.

Nearby, a wedded lesbian couple of 20 years took a more lighthearted view of the issue.

"It’s the typical gay marriage agenda," said Lisa Frickey. "We share a refrigerator, take the trash out, file our taxes on time, kiss each other each night and share refrigerator magnets."

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