As oral arguments were beginning Tuesday in the first of two same-sex marriage cases inside the Supreme Court, the steps in front of the court were filled with throngs of what looked to be mostly gay-marriage supporters, spilling out in front of the building and to the other side of the street.
About a half hour earlier, a parade of traditional-marriage supporters had arrived, later headed to a rally on the National Mall.
At the court, some of those who held up signs denouncing gay marriage and warning that God would not approve were overwhelmed by their adversaries, who stood in front of them, beside them and behind them — holding their signs even higher.
Perry Wheeler was carrying a sign that read, "I get married in two months, but it won't feel complete until my brother can in this country, too." And he slid right in front of Rebekah Phelps-Davis, from the Westboro Baptist Church, who was holding a sign that read, "Same Sex Marriage Dooms Nations."
Phelps-Davis stood rock solid on the grass and raised her signs even higher.
"He sits there and says, 'Everybody's with me,' " but he cannot stand the fact that the word of God might get leaked out," said Phelps-Davis.
To which Wheeler shot back, "I knew standing here she'd be spewing with hatred, but killing with love — that's my motto."
At the anti-gay-marriage rally on the Mall, African-American pastor Rev. Bill Owens rejected the argument equating the right to same-sex marriage with the rights of racial minorities at the heart of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
"I marched in this same location years ago," he said. "They are trying to say they are suffering the same thing we suffered. They are not. ... not even close."
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
We begin this hour with high drama at the Supreme Court today. Inside, the justices sparred over same-sex marriage and the California ballot initiative that limits marriage to one man and one woman. But the drama continued outside where advocates for and against gay marriage have been camped out for days. In a moment, we'll walk through the legal arguments in the case.
But first, NPR's Ailsa Chang heard some very real arguments on the steps of the court where tempers flared and the script included some heated language.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Opening scene, hours before oral arguments are set to begin, Rebecca Phelps Davis stands on the sidewalk edge like an island in the sea of same-sex marriage supporters all around her. She holds up a sign: God Dooms Fag Marriage. Then, a guy steps in front of her blocking her sign with his own and Davis tells him he's not supposed to be standing on the street.
REBECCA PHELPS DAVIS: He sits there and says, everybody's listening, but he cannot stand the fact that the word of God might get leaked out somewhere along the way. So he stood in front of me and he's in violation of the law and guess what? He doesn't care. See, he doesn't care. That's the M.O. of the fags. They're lawless. They're lawless beasts.
CHANG: All around Davis, supporters of same-sex marriage were playing their parts, too. There were your snazzy signs...
KATHERINE VELVET: My name is Katherine Velvet and my sign says: Wedding Ban To Make Us Stand.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Wedding bans to make us stand. Wedding bans to make us stand.
CHANG: There were some crazy costumes.
QUEEN AMOR: My name is Queen Amor. I'm wearing a beautiful little layered rainbow tutu with a pink fishnet.
CHANG: And then there were the children, tugged into the scene by enthusiastic parents hoping to impart a lesson. Four-year-old Rain Montgomery Vielmo came with her two dads. They adopted her in 2012, the year they got married in D.C.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Rain, why are we here?
RAIN MONTGOMERY VIELMO: Because God loves everyone. He hates no one.
CHANG: And then, right around 10:00 am, just when the justices were about to start, the show shifted right on queue. A thick parade of people opposed to same-sex marriage marched past the court on their way to a rally on the National Mall.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: One woman, one man. One woman, one man. One woman, one man.
CHANG: Suddenly, it was like two bands having a sing-off.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right.
CHANG: Next scene, the two rivers of people merged and things get just a little bit ugly.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE ARGUING)
CHANG: And then, on the outside of the outside, there was the audience taking in the whole show, just kind of agape, like Troy Covill, who was in D.C. with his high school class and just unwittingly stumbled into the mix.
TROY COVILL: It's crazy. It's kind of cool. Like, there's nothing like this happening in Wyoming. So I'm from a town of, like, 2,000 people.
CHANG: And Covill says even if you stuffed all 2,000 people from Pinedale, Wyoming into the streets right here, they'd never be able to make as much noise as these folks. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.