Sorry if We Offend

Anti-gay marriage protesters assembled at the Supreme Court today. Was this their final march?

Qween Amor, right, from Orlando, Fla., dances infront of members of the Westboro Baptist Church seen outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2013.
Qween Amor, right, from Orlando, Fla., dances infront of members of the Westboro Baptist Church seen outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

“The dominoes are falling,” said Dr. Bob Borger. “They’re falling faster than I ever thought they could.”

Borger, an Annapolis, Md. pastor, was walking back from the first-ever March for Marriage with two fellow Marylanders. They’d rallied outside the Supreme Court as justices heard arguments for the repeal of California’s Proposition 8. All of the Marylanders had worked on the 2012 campaign to ban gay marriage in their state, too. They were carrying huge signs from that campaign, with the slogan Tell the Governor, Tell the President: Protect Marriage.

But they’d lost. Maryland was one of three states that voted to legalize last year, and that fed into the liberals’ case that gay marriage was mainstream.

“The margin was around 100,000 votes,” said Borger. “It was close, and up until the day of the election I thought we would win.”

Tuesday’s march to the court was put together in six busy weeks by the National Organization for Marriage. More than 5,000 conservatives showed up—better than NOM had expected, not shabby for photos. Less than half of them were white. Spanish-speaking chaplains and families called for every child to have una mama y un papa. Chinese prayer groups gathered in circles to sing English hymns translated into Mandarin. Isolde Cambourne, a French student at D.C.’s Catholic University, waved a Tricolor and spread the news about the mega-rallies for marriage in her country.

And yet the mood varied between nervous, defensive, and panicked. Nobody, not even the red-sash-wearing youngsters of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, would predict an outright court win for their side. They had seen too many dominoes fall.

“I don’t trust this court,” said Ofelia Verdejo, one of 700 conservatives—mostly Catholic, mostly Hispanic—who rode buses down from New York and New Jersey. “They change. They change their minds.” In doing so, they were risking “God’s judgment,” which is consistent.

What worried NOM and the other assembled groups was public pressure, and a majority of the court deciding that legalizing gay marriage would put them in lockstep with cultural trends. In an interview last week, NOM president Brian Brown dismissed news of Republican conversions to the gay marriage cause, like that of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, as hype meant to show “momentum” that didn’t exist. In a short speech to marchers, after telling them to ignore the “hateful” Westboro Baptist Church, Brown put it succinctly.

“No more Roe vs. Wades!” he said. Meaning: If the court struck down Prop. 8 or DOMA, it would impose alien marriage laws onto states that didn’t want them. That would spark an endless culture war.

“I hope it won’t be another Roe v. Wade situation,” said Ray Bullock, a retiree from Rhode Island, carrying a banner with the slogan Destroy Marriage—Destroys Family—Destroys America. “They decide, and the country fights over it for the next 50 years. Because what we have now is a government that’s legislating immorality. Legislating it!” Bullock had opposed the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, when a majority struck down laws against sodomy. As he described the reasons why, he grew apoplectic.

“OK, the police shouldn’t bust through a door and see if that’s going on,” he said. “But if they were discovered to be in that position—these people do it in the frickin’ playgrounds! The Occupy people, they were having sex in parks! Nobody wanted to put it on TV! I mean, come on!”

Bullock wasn’t the only marcher still agitated by Lawrence. “That’s the case that got me interested in politics,” said Robert Broadus, a Maryland conservative and sometime congressional candidate. More than one marcher could quote from Antonin Scalia’s dissent in that case. The majority, according to Scalia, had left “on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.”

He was right. And so, they kept marching to the court. They arrived, and were held off for a few minutes by an impressive array of police officers. Pro-gay-marriage activists, who’d gotten to the court steps early, filled every inch of space apart from the street. The March for Marriage would have to continue down 1st Street, flanked by gay men holding pictures of their husbands and millennials whose signs punned on unfamiliar pop songs or Internet memes—“Wedding Bands’a Make Us Dance,” “Scalia YOLO.”

The marchers trudged past the court, led by Brown and a black-brown coalition of pastors. They were stopped before they were even parallel to the court’s steps by Carmen Guzman, holding a sign bedecked in rainbow banners.

You Called Me Names
Bullied Me
Now Give Me Justice

Guzman drew photographers away from the marchers as she talked about her marriage and put scripture to music. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people,” she sang, “that you do to me.” The marchers at the front of their column kneeled down and prayed. Police started to nudge Guzman out of the way, she left, and she was replaced immediately by a group of pastors and activists wearing the logo of Get Equal. Again and again, they stepped in front of the NOM column. It took 50 minutes to move two blocks.

Apart from the human barricade, the anti-NOM forces were almost polite. There was no real heckling, just a little counter-chanting. One man on the sidelines wore a family portrait around his neck, with the caption Our Massachusetts Marriage Should Count in Virginia. He affected disappointment, not anger.

“You’re hating your Hispanic brothers and sisters!” he said, shaking his head. “Think of your Hispanic brothers and sisters!”

From time to time, one of the marchers would engage the disappointed man and explain why he was wrong. “We don’t hate you,” said a youngish Hispanic marcher. “We hate the sin.”

“It’s not a sin,” said the disappointed man. “It’s who we are.”

“It’s a sin, it’s in the Bible,” shrugged the marcher, and he moved on.

This was edifying; it was exhausting. The marchers returned to their rally point, and Brown asked them, from the stage, to share any photos they had of the multiple blockades along the route. Gia Coluccio, a 2012 college graduate who’d gone to work for the American Principles Project, described the traditional marriage movement as the “counter-culture.” It had been, what, two or three years since they were the culture?

That defensiveness cropped up again and again in the after-action speeches. Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco, was introduced as a leader of the Prop 8 campaign. In that capacity, he’d compared legal gay marriage to “male breastfeeding.” But he had a different audience now, and different stakes.

“Please understand that we don’t hate you,” he said, addressing anyone who might watch on TV. “We are not animated by animus or bigotry. It’s not our intention to offend anyone. If we do, we apologize.”