BY AJ TRAGER
WASHINGTON D.C. – Dozens of people have been camping out in front of the U.S. Supreme Court since Friday, enduring cold temperatures and rain, in order to ensure that they get a seat in the room when the high court hears testimony from supporters and opponents of marriage equality tomorrow morning.
They began lining up at 6 a.m. on April 24, four days before the hearing. With 100 hours to go before the nine justices will hear arguments over the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage, Frank Colasonti Jr. and his husband Jim Ryder joined the queue of dedicated individuals in front of the courthouse.
Colasonti and Ryder are 17th and 18th in line at SCOTUS, but in March of 2014 they were the first couple in Oakland county to get married, following a court ruling that struck down Michigan's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. Over 300 couples were legally married in the state before a stay was placed on the decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. This year, after 26 years of being together, they celebrated their first wedding anniversary.
"The rest of the people can't get married in Michigan. We feel an obligation, a duty, until everyone can get married, that we need to fight for everybody else still," Ryder said. "We just got lucky, that's all."
Just two spots ahead of them, Kathleen Perrin holds spot number 15. Perrin runs the website Equality Case Files, which she started in 2010 to provide easy, online access to legal documents surrounding the same-sex marriage lawsuits that have been rapidly moving through federal and state courts since 2013 (when SCOTUS struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor).
Perrin, Colasonti and Ryder are no strangers to camping out in front of courthouses. They met in California during the 2013 trial on Prop 8 and are now among the first group of people who intend on sitting in the courtroom Tuesday.
Unlike the last time the couple camped out before the California court, legal professionals and the public must hold a spot in line since no one but the plaintiffs are guaranteed a seat before the justices. There are two lines forming: one side for the public and one side for the lawyers. Many people have professionally paid spot-sitters holding a place in line during the wait. As of 9 a.m. Monday morning, Colasonti reported 67 people are waiting in line.
Colasonti and Ryder brought fleece blankets, sleeping bags, chairs and tarps to protect themselves from the rain, a plethora of snacks to keep their energy up and even a bottle of bubbles for entertainment.
"It's an experience that you can tell people about, but it is something to be felt and seen," Colasonti said. "We had scores of elderly people who were walking through our area, and a lot of the elderly women were yelling, 'Yay, go for it!' People are very supportive."
With less than 24 hours before the doors open, Colasonti and Ryder are sleep deprived but full of excitement and energy as the hours dwindle down, drawing nearer to the historic day in U.S history.
"It feels important and necessary. I'm happy to be able to be here to witness it and to actually see the wheels of justice turning and the movement in the country functioning. You really do see it here in Washington D.C.," Ryder explained.
Over the course of the weekend they've met many of the marriage plaintiffs and their legal teams as well as public supporters and anti-marriage equality protestors. A day before the trial they will attend a reception hosted by the Michigan delegation for DeBoer and Rowse and then they will attend a plaintiffs' reception, hosted by the Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign.
"It's people like (Michigan plaintiffs) Jayne and April who have a public face of loving, caring parents. Everybody can relate to it," Colasonti said.
"And the courage to speak up. People don't necessarily have that courage or feel afraid that they can be out," Ryder said.
The day of the trial, Colasonti and Ryder intend on waking up early, packing up their SCOTUS campsite and storing it at a local hotel along with Perrin's materials. Then, after such a long wait, they will finally head into the courthouse. Before the rest of the country even has access to the arguments and the justices responses, this Michigan couple will be among a small group of individuals in the nation lucky enough to see history take place. No electronics are allowed in the courtroom and lockers are provided to store jackets and other materials. Audio from the two-and-a-half-hour arguments will be made available to the public at 2 p.m. April 28 at http://www.supremecourt.gov/.
"I asked my coworkers the other day how their marriages were fairing since we got married, and surprisingly nobody is divorced, nobody is having any marital problems," Ryder joked. "For all the negative things that we've heard about gay marriage and how it breaks down the morals of society and destroys the whole of other people's families, it's nice to know that Frank and I don't have the power to destroy marriages."