Opponents quoted the Bible and used a loudspeaker to warn of the nation's demise. Gay-rights advocates tried to drown them out by singing the "Star Spangled Banner" and chanting, "Love Can't Wait." Several supporters said they were there to witness history in the making.
"We just had to be here," said Shelly Bailes, a 74-year-old from Davis, California, who has been with her wife, Ellen Pontac, for more than 40 years.
Protesters and advocates had begun lining up last week for coveted seats inside the courtroom. While VIPs were muscled through the crowd with private security in tow, security officials told people waiting in line that most of the permanent seats were taken, but they might still have a chance to rotate through the courtroom in three-minute turns.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, a proponent of same-sex marriage, said he had arranged for a seat well in advance. While the final ruling won't come until late June, Nadler said he sees the ruling as a slam dunk.
"How many issues can you help so many people and hurt nobody?" said Nadler, D-N.Y.
Conservative political groups, including Concerned Women for America and the Alliance for Defending Freedom, argued that allowing same-sex marriage violates religious freedoms. Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores, R-Texas, said the voters, not courts, should get to define marriage.
"It's not for the court to resolve controversial social issues," agreed Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, echoing arguments being made inside. "It's for the democratic process."
Darren Nimnicht, 63, and Tom Cicero, 62, of New York City stood on a curb far from the crush of people holding a sign with a picture of them from 1976. Someone joked that they looked like "Starsky and Hutch" from the television show, and the couple, who married in 2008, agreed that much has changed since then.
"I wanted to show the younger generation there can be lasting relationships," said Cicero. "It's not a fairy tale."
Others said they hoped the Supreme Court would resolve years of legal uncertainty for their families. Bailes, a mother of two, recalls being told by her divorce lawyer in the 1970s that if she acknowledged her relationship with Pontac, also a mother, that their children could be taken away from them.
Pontac says she is confident they will see same-sex marriage legalized by the Supreme Court.
"How can we not? Look around. Read the polls," she said. "I think the Supreme Court realizes this is a huge part of their legacy."
But Sprigg said same-sex marriage advocates shouldn't be so quick to celebrate. "I, by no means, believe it's a foregone conclusion," he said.Suggest a correction