This Week on the Hill: Gay Marriage Advocates Line Up for Court Hearings

BY Allie Morris and Simone Pathe  March 22, 2013 at 4:00 PM EDT


The Capitol Lawn cleared out during Irish Prime Minster Edna Kenny’s visit to the Hill on Tuesday. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

The political team took a look at the week that was on Capitol Hill. Got a tidbit? Email Allie Morris at amorris [at] newshour.org.


Staking out the Supreme Court

The arguments in the high-profile Prop 8 Supreme Court case may not begin until Tuesday, but the line to get into the court to watch them has already queued up in Washington. By Friday afternoon, eight people were already holding their places in front of the building.

Among those hoping to see same-sex marriage become the law of the land was Jason Wonacott of California. He arrived at the back of the line three hours before the NewsHour spoke with him, and said he plans to spend the next four days sleeping, eating and hanging out on the sidewalk. “It’s been awhile since I have been on a camping trip,” he said. “Might as well make it on rough, hard cement.”

Wonacott got the idea to stake out this case last year, when he heard about people lining up before the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act. “This is pretty much the biggest event that is going to happen for it in the U.S., just a moment in history I wanted to be a part of,” he said. Wonacott, who is gay, said he realized his sexuality at the age of 17, about the time when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began allowing same-sex marriages. “That was almost nine years, going on 10 years ago, so its something I have cared about a lot since then, and I have been following really closely.”

Until the arguments begin, Wonacott plans to pass the time reading, watching movies on his phone and laptop and writing. He sat in a folding chair, his legs stuffed into a sleeping bag, with his bags of supplies surrounding his feet. “I have a lot of friends in the area, so hopefully they will bring me some blankets and hot coffee.”


Lobbying for the Bible

Anyone passing in front of the Capitol Tuesday afternoon would have heard a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace.” It wasn’t a recording, or even a planned performance. While waiting to get their group photo taken, some 300 pastors and their wives assembled on the House steps broke into song. During the impromptu 10-minute concert, the group sang “God Bless America,” “Amazing Grace” and “Victory in Jesus.”

“These men love to sing,” said Pastor Larry Borner, who came to Washington, D.C., from Wisconsin with his wife Donna. “We all sing these in our churches and so this is just a fun thing to do whenever we get together in groups. Anywhere that we travel we will always get together and sing like this.”

Members in the group hailed from 42 states and represented Awake America Ministries. In addition to talking with lawmakers, the organization distributed bibles to all members of Congress.

“We have come up to Capitol Hill to be able to talk with all our senators and representatives and to just let them know we pray for them we love them,” Borner told the NewsHour.

The surprise singing drew a crowd and by the final performance as many as 100 people were gathered taking pictures and listening. One bystander was drawn to the performance when she heard the music from across the lawn. “I think it’s great that we live in a country where people who believe in Jesus Christ can stand up in the stairs of the Capitol and sing about him,” she said.


Tourists Weigh In

Money was the topic du jour on the Hill this week. Mainly, how the government is going to use it. On Thursday, the House passed the Senate’s amended version of the $984 billion continuing resolution that will keep the government funded through September. But, how the budget process proceeds is up in the air. Also on Thursday, House Republicans passed their budget plan, while the Democratic-controlled Senate began debating its own budget proposal.

The sequester still remains in place — across the board spending cuts that impact almost every facet of the government. One of the most contentious cuts? Public tours. When the White House cancelled theirs, citing the sequester’s budget cuts, Speaker John Boehner pointedly announced that Capitol tours were still on. With sunny weather on Friday, and some schools out for spring break, tourists descended on the Hill. But as the budget wars rage on inside, what do the visitors think about how Congress is performing?

Owen Ashurt, 58, and his wife, Becky, 52, from Seattle, had just taken a Capitol tour and were well aware of the budget squabbles going on inside. Owen considers himself to be a conservative, and Becky is more liberal, but they agreed that both sides in Congress no longer know how to compromise and aren’t throwing around realistic solutions to trimming spending. “We all know that these guys waste more money in a minute than it would cost to do a Capitol or White House tour,” Owen said.

Andrew Chinofsky, 22, who brought his girlfriend and little sister to tour the Capitol from Philadelphia, said he thinks cutting tours was a “publicity stunt,” but one that the White House undertook understandably to raise public consciousness about the gridlock in Washington. He’s hoping Congress gets its act together on the budget so that they’ll take up some of the issues that have been pushed to the back burner, like the public health initiatives that have prompted him to write to his legislators.

Although no one reported feeling the effects of the sequester personally, Wayne Jacobsen, 69, from Barrington, Ill., sympathized with people whose livelihoods have been hit. As he made his way toward the metal detector to enter the Capitol, he said he would support cutting tours if it would make a difference.

Absolutely not, said fellow prairie stater, Patty Shook, 45. Taking pictures of her young daughter after their Capitol tour, Shook said she’s “beyond frustrated” and doesn’t feel as if lawmakers represent her.


Congress Seeing Green

Two days after the official holiday on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day spirit was on display throughout the Capitol, in large part to welcome Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to the Hill. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, hosted the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon with special guests President Barack Obama and the prime minister of Ireland, known as the Taoiseach.

Both the president and Boehner sported green ties and most members of the American and Irish press, who waited through lunch in Statuary Hall to cover the entertainment portion of the event, were also wearing festive flair — dresses, scarves, ties, jackets in all hues of green.

After dining on a lunch of lamb and potatoes and listening to a performance from Anthony Kearns of the Irish Tenors, the speaker, prime minister and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., (also wearing a green tie), escorted the president down the House steps to his awaiting motorcade.

The end of the visit didn’t signal the end of the celebration. Later in the day, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan, R-Wis., spoke on the House floor wearing green ties and shamrock pins.

Photo above: A line forms outside the Supreme Court on Friday. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

Photo above: Pastors and their wives assembled on the House steps sing “Victory in Jesus.” Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

Photo above: President Barack Obama leaves the Hill after the Friends of Ireland luncheon. Photo by Allie Morris/NewsHour.

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