Except for some reporters and cameras on the East Front, the Capitol grounds were fairly quiet Friday morning, standing in stark contrast to the electric crowds across the street.
In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry , with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing in the majority opinion that same-sex couples “ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” Minutes after word of the decision left the high court, supporters released balloons spelling “Love” from the steps out front that sailed toward the Capitol Dome. And opponents, if they were present at all, were vastly outnumbered by those supporting Kennedy’s opinion.
Only a few members of Congress were in D.C. for the historic decision, including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., who married his longtime partner at a ceremony in a small town along the Hudson River north of New York City nearly one year ago.
“I was coming to work, right, and so I stopped because it’s an amazing sight and you see the thousands of people out there. I couldn’t see a single opponent of marriage in that crowd, which is also fascinating,” Maloney said. “Where are the opponents? And that’s true in the court’s decision and it’s true on the court steps. The opponents are vanishing. There is a real convergence on this issue in the public’s mind, and now in the Court’s jurisprudence.”
“It distinguishes this issue from others that have an almost permanent divisive quality about them. We are converging on this issue, and that’s exciting,” Maloney said.
In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Maloney, the first openly gay member of Congress from New York, also said even some of those against the ruling seemed to know that they would be on the wrong side of history.
“I think what is remarkable about the decision is its historic sweep, about how this really does root a fundamental right to marry for all Americans, including same-sex couples, in the Due Process Clause, in the Equal Protection Clause,” Maloney said. “There’s no pulling punches in this decision.”
“This decision is calling the question on whether you support full equality or not, and history will record who was on what side,” Maloney said.
One opponent, Christine Weick from Grand Rapids, Mich., said she felt “heartbreak for my country, heartbreak for my Lord.”
“The Christians are a minority and we just squeezed them into a tighter pocket,” Weick said.
But such sentiment was in the minority on the street as well as the court. Even nearly an hour after the decision was released, same-sex marriage supporters crowded the steps of the Supreme Court, spilling over to the Capitol grounds on the opposite side of First Street. Capitol Police strained to contain the crowd to the sidewalks, diligently directing pedestrians to the crosswalks.
Meanwhile, supporters milled around waving flags and sporting T-shirts with slogans such as, “Some chicks marry chicks. Get over it.” Members of the advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign held up a giant flag with a red equal sign and supporters gleefully ran underneath the flag. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., also broke into song. When they started to sing “We Shall Overcome,” adding the line, “We shall marry free,” the crowd erupted into cheers.
Rep. Ted Lieu was spotted in the crowd wearing a rainbow bow tie. “My first reaction is love wins again. My second reaction is I couldn’t be prouder to be an American today,” Lieu said.
The California Democrat, who is a vice chair of the Congressional LGBT Caucus, said there are still challenges to equality, pointing to his own bill to ban conversion therapy. “So there is still work that needs to be done, but this is a massive first step toward full equality,” he said.
Lieu’s fellow California Democrat, Rep. Ami Bera, was also spotted making his way through the crowd, posing for a picture with mini Human Rights Campaign flags. Bera said he was originally scheduled to be in D.C. Friday.
“I’m glad that I got a chance to experience the ruling. I was hoping it would happen today while we were here,” Bera said. “I was with a group of high school students and we were talking about what our country means. And they get to experience our country and our judicial system in action, so this is great.”
The Congressional LGBT Caucus cheered the ruling on social media, sharing Rep. Mark Takano’s response to the ruling, which involved a rainbow graphic with the phrase, “YAS SCOTUS YAAASS.”
Takano, a California Democrat, described the atmosphere as “just jubilant” and said, “I predict dancing in the street here in D.C.,” adding, “I feel like the Supreme Court is throwing a huge wedding bouquet out to the LGBTQ community.” Takano did note that “I’m also mindful of the fact that LGBTQ couples “who get married in our country are going to face employment and housing discrimination.”
The association for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender congressional staffers was mum on the ruling, as the association’s by-laws states the group “shall not make public statements about or take official positions on policy issues.”
Though the official staff association did not issue a statement, several congressional staffers and interns were seen outside the court, carrying flags and celebrating alongside supporters.
As the throngs of supporters cheered the ruling, the lawyers addressed the press. One of the plaintiff’s lawyers who argued the case, Mary Bonauto of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, addressed reporters. Nearly two months earlier, she attended a reception at the Capitol following oral arguments, and Friday she stood on the court steps, victorious.
“Today the court stood by a principle in this nation that we do not tolerate laws that disadvantage people because of who they are,” Bonauto said. “So it is a day for equality, for liberty, for justice under law.”
Kyle Trygstad, Katherine Tully-McManus, Ivan Levingston and Nicole Puglise contributed to this report.
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