They mostly kept their distance, these supporters and opponents of gay marriage, as they massed Tuesday in front of the Supreme Court to proclaim with signs and slogans their conflicting views about the cutting-edge question before the justices.
People who favor legalizing same-sex marriage carried pictures of gay weddings and families and held signs that read "marriage is a constitutional right." They waved American and rainbow flags, and one man in devil horns danced in pink heels and a rainbow tutu.
Opponents, meanwhile, marched down a roadway in front of the court, hoisting placards including "Every child deserves a mom & dad" and "Vote for holy matrimony."
By the time the court began its session, which on Tuesday dealt with California's ban on same-sex marriage, the sidewalk outside was packed. Supporters spilled over to the other side of the roadway. "Gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right," the crowd chanted at one point, followed by "we honor this moment with love."
Many supporters of gay marriage came with homemade signs including ones that read "a more perfect union," ''love is love," and "'I do!' want 2 B (equals)" Some signs had pictures of gay couples. "Together 34 years," read one, "married with pride," said another.
Gahan Kelley and Bonnie Nemeth, both 69, of Richmond, Va., had matching signs with their California marriage license on one side and a picture of their wedding ceremony on the other. The couple married in California during the 142 days when it was legal.
"This decision can change our lives tremendously," said Kelley of the Supreme Court cases.
Nemeth said she was hopeful that the court would support gay marriage.
"I really think we're going to win," she said.
Another couple, Stacey Parker, 37, and Debbie Sentner, 43, drove from Toledo, Ohio, to Washington to demonstrate. The pair married in Massachusetts in 2009, but their home state doesn't recognize their marriage. On Tuesday they carried signs that said "Tired of being a second class citizen" and "we the people means everyone."
"To us we feel married but we don't really feel complete until we can actually get all the rights and recognition that a lot of people take for granted," Parker said.
While many people were at the court to demonstrate, others stood in line to get inside the court to hear the arguments. Actor-director Rob Reiner, who helped lead the fight against California's Proposition 8, which barred gay couples from marrying in the state, was at the head of the line. Some people had waited since last Thursday — even through light snow — for coveted seats to hear the argument.
Supporters of gay marriage were initially the majority of the crowd standing outside the court, but a smaller group stood holding signs backing traditional marriage. Mike Krzywonos, 57, of Pawtucket, R.I., wore a button that read "marriage 1 man + 1 woman." Krzywonos, a retired metal worker, said his group is the "silent majority."
"The whole country does not want this," he said as helped hold a sign that read, "just because you don't get it does not give you the right to change it."
The crowd of opponents swelled just as the court began considering the case not long after 10 a.m. EDT. Opponents staged a march down the street in front of the court as supporters stood on both sides of the roadway. Some conversations between the two sides got heated, even with police escorting the group. Austin Ruse, 56, was one of the people who exchanged words with the other side, asking two women supporting same-sex marriage whether a man should be allowed to marry his adult son.
"If anyone can get married then marriage has no meaning," Ruse said later.
Christine Clark, 47, of Pittsfield, Pa., was participating in the march with her teenage children and their cousin. She said she knows and loves gay people but does not believe in gay marriage.
"We're not hating," said her daughter, Lydia Clark, 13.
Outside the court after the argument had concluded, supporters of same-sex marriage chanted, "Equal justice under the law," the motto inscribed on the face of the marble court building, and cheered as their attorneys, David Boies and former solicitor general Ted Olson, emerged from the court.
Boies called the arguments a "very thoughtful hearing." Asked if the court was ready to make a sweeping ruling, Olson said he had "no idea."
But Olson said public support is in favor of same-sex marriage.
"We are confident where the American people are going with this," he said. "We don't know for sure what the United States Supreme Court is going to do, but we're very, very gratified that they listened, they heard, they asked hard questions, and there's no denying where the right is and we hope that the Supreme Court will come out in that way when they make this decision in June."
Andrew Pugno, an attorney for ProtectMarriage.com, the group that defended Proposition 8 in court, said his side was able to say everything they wanted to during arguments and would look forward to the court's decision.
"I think that we'll see a very reasoned decision from this court," he said.
The court will hear one more day of arguments on the issue of gay marriage. On Wednesday the court will consider a case involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.