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Gay-marriage rivals brush off snow to see historic arguments

For Jason Wonacott, the chance to witness a milestone in the fight for same-sex marriage is worth four nights sleeping on concrete in the rain and snow.

Wonacott, 25, has been in line since March 22 on the plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking a ticket to see the justices hear arguments tomorrow in a case that may determine whether same-sex couples have the right to marry.

“It’s just such an important and historic case that affects me personally because I’m gay and I’d like to get married one day,” Wonacott said in an interview. “It seemed like it was a bold and kind of crazy thing to do to show how important this is to me and how historic it’s going to be.”

Wonacott is one of about 75 would-be Supreme Court spectators on both sides of the gay marriage issue who endured a spring snowstorm to secure their places in line for a limited number of Supreme Court seats. The nation’s high court is set to consider same-sex marriage for the first time, taking up arguments on Proposition 8, a 2008 California ballot measure passed by voters that bars such unions.

On Wednesday, the court will weigh the legality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing gay unions on issues including benefits. The court will decide the cases by June.

Hired Line-Sitters

Not everyone intent on witnessing the arguments is braving the cold.

Mark Jansson, 68, of Elk Grove, California, hired line-sitters to hold three spots in the spectator line. Jansson, a volunteer for Protect Marriage, a group that opposes same-sex marriage, declined to disclose how much he was paying his placeholders.

“We’ve gotten some great kids to help us out here,” he said of the women sitting in lawn chairs, shielded by a tarp that protected them from the snowflakes. “We believe that marriage is ordained of God. We’re very concerned what could happen on Tuesday with the Supreme Court, but we’re excited as well.” One of the women, who would only identify herself as Taylor, said they had been provided with hot chocolate and food as temperatures dropped.

Several people who indicated they were waiting in line on behalf of others declined to discuss who hired them or the amount they were receiving for staying in the queue.

“It’s ridiculous,” Aaron Black, 39, a same-sex marriage supporter, said of the paid line-sitters. “The people who are passionate about the issue and are putting in time to come down here should be able to go in.”

Shared Pizza

Black is part of a group that plans to demonstrate in front of the court tomorrow. He said he expects thousands to attend.

“It’s appalling that people don’t have equal rights at this point. Enough is enough,” he said.

The Family Research Council, a group that opposes same-sex marriage, plans to participate in a march to the Supreme Court building Tuesday morning that’s expected to attract “several thousand” people, said Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the organization.

“It’s going to be very significant for the institution of marriage and the future of our country,” Sprigg said of the cases before the court. “Each side has to respect the free speech right of the other, and I’m confident that will take place.”

Seat Allotments

At least 60 seats will be available to members of the public who wish to view the entire argument, Scott Markley, a spokesman for the Supreme Court, said in an e-mail. An additional 30 seats will give visitors the chance to view the proceedings for about 3 to 5 minutes, he said.

Cordell Asbenson, 21, who said he believes marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, started his wait at 10 p.m. on Saturday.

While he’s not opposed to paid line-sitters, he said experiencing the arguments in the same-sex marriage case will be more memorable for those who camped out themselves.

“It will mean more to us going in there, I feel, than to those who didn’t come out here because we’ve had to suffer through the cold and the sleeping outside,” he said.

Marriage Plans

Frank Colasonti Jr., 61, said he hopes the court’s decision will mean he can marry his partner of 25 years, James Ryder. The couple traveled from Michigan to attend the arguments and got in line at 5 a.m. Monday morning.

“We wanted to lend support to those who are impacted by it, as we are,” he said.

Wonacott, who has worked as a consultant at the Energy Department, said that he’s benefited from the kindness of friends and strangers during his marathon wait. Visitors have regularly offered food, including a delivery of pizza that he shared with others in line, he said.

“I have way too much food,” said Wonacott, who has posted about his experience sleeping for six hours in the snow on his blog “People keep bringing me all this food. I’m very appreciative, but I’m like, I can’t eat any more.”

Recommended Citation: Nick Taborek, Gay-marriage rivals brush off snow to see historic arguments, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 25, 2013, 9:56 PM),