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Supreme Court Takes Up Gay Marriage for First Time

Gay marriage case at the Supreme Court; photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Justin Kenny of Akron, Ohio, holds a flag Tuesday morning in front of the Supreme Court building. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Tuesday’s arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court involving California’s ban on same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8, boil down to this: Can a popular vote revoke a privilege already granted by a state government? Does the 14th Amendment prevent California from defining marriage as between a man and a woman?

These are simple legal questions, among dozens heard by the Supreme Court each year testing state laws and constitutional rights. But the fervor surrounding this one is different.

For some, it’s a case that challenges civil rights or that questions the traditions of heterosexual marriage. Those viewpoints are reflected in two opposing rallies Tuesday near the court building. Gay marriage supporters will gather at the Supreme Court Plaza as part of a United for Marriage Coalition’s equality rally. And marriage traditionalists led by the Coalition of African American Pastors USA and the National Organization for Marriage will march as well.

Especially for the pro-gay rights side, Tuesday’s case marks a cultural milestone of sorts. Many Supreme Court watchers have speculated that the justices chose to take the case partly because cultural momentum for gay rights has risen to a point where legal questions need answers. That momentum has continued to grow this week, with a new public opinion poll, fresh support from moderate Democrats and a Peter Baker story on former President Bill Clinton’s history with the issue.

The 42nd president signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, setting the court up for the second of its two gay marriage cases this week. Baker writes about Clinton’s anxiety after he signed DOMA late at night with little fanfare and how he changed his mind to the point of criticizing his own action (The NewsHour searched for footage of Clinton signing the bill, and indeed, there’s none to be found.)

A Columbus Dispatch/Saperstein poll released Sunday found that 54 percent of Ohioans support an amendment to repeal the state’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage, which passed with 62 percent support.

Sen. Mark Warner, a moderate Democrat from Virginia, announced Monday that he now backs same-sex marriage. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, a Red State Democrat, added his support for gay marriage as well.

The shifts by Warner, Begich and others come after Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced last week that he no longer opposes same-sex marriage after learning that his college-aged son is gay. Portman’s son, Will, penned an opinion piece Monday in the Yale Daily News titled “Coming Out,” in which he wrote:

In February of freshman year, I decided to write a letter to my parents. I’d tried to come out to them in person over winter break but hadn’t been able to. So I found a cubicle in Bass Library one day and went to work. Once I had something I was satisfied with, I overnighted it to my parents and awaited a response.

They called as soon as they got the letter. They were surprised to learn I was gay, and full of questions, but absolutely rock-solid supportive. That was the beginning of the end of feeling ashamed about who I was.

Politico added to the pro-gay rights chatter Tuesday morning with a Josh Gerstein story that asserts possible defeats for the movement — including the court upholding both Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act — wouldn’t devastate supporters:

But gay rights activists say this wouldn’t have the impact of Plessy v. Ferguson — the 1896 decision that left “separate but equal” the law of the land until Brown v. Board of Education six decades later.

Instead, they say, they still leave the court in a better position than when they started their legal trek, since public opinion has swung in their favor, supporters have been galvanized, and about 100 prominent Republicans signed a brief publicly endorsing gay marriage.

With little other news on the legal front breaking before the arguments, D.C.-based journalists turned their attentions to the line forming outside the Supreme Court building. The Associated Press reported those in line included college students, a substitute teacher and an Army veteran, and that some arrived last Thursday to wait for a seat at the arguments. One man, there since Friday morning, has done about 200 interviews with inquiring reporters, he told National Journal. He’s there on his own, though many are paid to wait in line in place of others.

A guaranteed seat to watch the Supreme Court hearings on gay marriage this week could cost between $864 and $1,200, according to the AP. This figure is based on the cost to hire someone to stand in line for a day at the going rates of $36 or $50 an hour charged by two line-standing firms. A line for the free tickets began on Thursday. The court seats about 500 with about 60 seats for the general public. Another 30 seats reserved for the public will rotate every three to five minutes, the AP notes.

It wouldn’t be a major news event without a Buzzfeed listicle. Matt Stopera visited the site across from the court building Monday, where he says nearly 70 people camped. He produced these observations, which honor the obscene amount of garbage bags needed for sitting all day on concrete in the rain.

The NewsHour will have you covered from every angle with in-depth coverage on the broadcast and online this week. Bookmark our Supreme Court page and keep an eye on our staff Twitter feed for updates outside the court.

Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal will join us Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

On Wednesday, the court will hear a case on the Defense of Marriage Act, which questions a federal law allowing states not to recognize legal ties between gay couples made elsewhere. The case involves a gay widow and asks what to do about her payments to the federal government on her deceased partner’s estate — payments she wouldn’t have had to make had they been a straight and married. However, the case could have legal implications for gay couples that are far more reaching if their side wins. For instance, S.P. Sullivan of NJ.com profiles a gay couple who struggles with one partner’s immigration status.

In this NewsHour segment, Coyle outlined both the DOMA and Proposition 8 cases.


If you missed it, politics editor Christina Bellantoni hosted a Google Hangout with four faith leaders about religion’s role in this public policy debate:



  • Reuters reports that Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., will not run for re-election in 2014, bringing the number of Senate Democratic retirements in next year’s midterm cycle to five. Johnson, the current chair of the banking committee, is expected to announce his decision Tuesday at the University of South Dakota.
  • The Office of Congressional Ethics is interviewing former campaign staff of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., about alleged intentional campaign finance violations from her failed 2012 presidential bid.
  • The National Review’s Robert Costa reports that Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., is writing a book with former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. The project is expected to focus on Walker’s gubernatorial experience.
  • Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., responded Monday to a new ad campaign from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which seeks to push lawmakers to back expanded background checks for gun purchases. “I don’t take gun advice from the mayor of New York City. I listen to Arkansans,” Pryor said in a statement.
  • Speaking with current and former city officials, the New York Times takes a close look at New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s “habit of hair-trigger eruptions of unchecked, face-to-face wrath.”
  • Resurrecting “Robin Hood” from last year’s election, the DCCC is out with a new video attacking GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spoke with Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News about his first 10 weeks in the Senate. When it comes to immigration reform, Cruz accused President Barack Obama of wanting the effort to fail because it would be politically beneficial to Democrats. “What he wants is for the bill to crater, so that he can use the issue as a political wedge in 2014 and 2016,” Cruz charged.
  • Clinton has taken sides in the upcoming Los Angeles mayoral runoff, endorsing city controller Wendy Greuel over city council member Eric Garcetti.
  • Roll Call’s Daniel Newhauser finds that Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma has become a suprising go-between for GOP leaders and the party’s rank-and-file.
  • Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., is expected to kick off his Senate campaign with events in Atlanta and Augusta on Wednesday.
  • The Kansas City Star’s Dave Helling reports that the city is making a bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.
  • The Los Angeles Times reports on a dog that mauled a sea lion in Laguna Beach, Calif., Saturday. The dog belongs to a relative of former Rep. Gabby Giffords.
  • Georgia state senators have voted to take some land from Tennessee.
  • “Being the leader of the free world is an expensive proposition. But the costs don’t stop once you leave the White House,” the AP reports about a Congressional Research Service study showing the federal government spent nearly $3.7 million on former presidents last year. George W. Bush was the costliest.
  • President Obama on Monday declared five sites national monuments, using powers granted by the 1906 Antiquities Act. The sites include Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument in New Mexico; San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington; the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland; the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio; and the First State National Monument in Delaware. Critics say the designation of new federally protected areas burdens taxpayers. The White House, citing a 2006 study, noted in its announcement that “each federal dollar spent on national parks generates at least four dollars of economic value to the public.”
  • ABC News’ Jilian Fama writes that Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith is doing an internship with the office of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
  • Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, a Democrat representing American Samoa, introduced legislation last week that would ban current and future use of the trademark “redskins.” Besides affecting Washington’s football team, the Non-Disparagement of American Indians in Trademarks Registrations Act of 2013 is reviving debate over other sports teams’ names.
  • A group at Towson University that calls itself the White Student Union plans to patrol for crimes on the campus, Daily Caller reports. One groupmember was the man who made segregationist comments at a CPAC presentation earlier this month.
  • NBC’s Ann Curry forgot her driver’s license to the White House Christmas party, and Matt Lauer had to wait for her outside the security gates. It’s one among many juicy anecdotes in New York Magazine’s fascinating tale of politics, power and hubris on Lauer and his former co-host at the “Today Show.”
  • Comedian Jim Carrey mocks the late Charlton Heston in a new pro-gun-control spoof video.
  • You can thank us later for this one. Or just thank Chris Moody.
  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA: In 2011, 28 percent of married women — a growing percentage — earned more than their husbands.



  • A programming note: We’ll bring you the Morning Line this week through Thursday, and then will take a little recess of our own. We’ll return April 8.













Christina Bellantoni, Cassie M. Chew and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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