WASHINGTON – Being a spectator to democracy can be messy business. And for those waiting outside the Supreme Court on Monday for one of the few coveted tickets to hear oral arguments in a pair of same-sex marriage cases this week, it was also cold, wet and tedious.
"Yeah, this is just not comfortable," said Taylor Carter, a 19-year-old college student, who was trying to stay dry underneath a large blue tarp that was barely shielding her and her 12-year-old brother and 15-year-old sister from the slushy mix of snow and rain. "Being cold isn't so bad. But being wet and cold is the worst."
A spring snowstorm that blew through the capital on Monday seemed to do little to deter the few dozen people who huddled under heavy sleeping bags, plastic tarps and oversize umbrellas, counting down the hours before the arguments begin on Tuesday morning.
Some had been there since Thursday night, moved by a sense of history and civic purpose. Others, like the Carters, had more a profitable reason: they were being paid a handsome hourly rate to wait for someone else. "It's enough," Ms. Carter said, declining to say how much she was being paid.
The Supreme Court normally holds about 60 tickets aside for the general public, and they are handed out in the morning on a first-come-first-served basis. A separate line is for people who rotate in groups to watch about three minutes of arguments each.
"Far too many people, after they vote, they go home and sit on their sofa and watch it all unfold on T.V.," said Aaron Black, 39, who came with a group of same-sex marriage supporters on a bus from New York. About 10 of them had parked themselves in front of the Supreme Court steps on brightly colored plastic lounge chairs – orange, green, blue and pink.
They had slept there overnight. Around noon, their soaking wet thermal sleeping bags were drying out in a nearby building.
"You've got to stand in front of your issue," Mr. Black added, pointing to the Supreme Court's columned front. "Frankly the issue is right there. On the Supreme Court building it says 'Equal Justice Under Law.'"
Donna Clarke, 62, of Mountain View, Calif., drove cross-country with her partner of nearly 30 years. She had planned to attend only a gay rights rally on Monday evening and another one Tuesday morning. Then she heard on the radio – somewhere in Virginia, she said – that there might be a chance to still get tickets. She sped the rest of the way.
For Ms. Clarke, the issue is one of fairness. "I'm retired military," she said. "I have all sorts of benefits for myself. I have nothing for my partner."
Among those on the other side of the same-sex marriage issue was Nicole Hudgens, 24, who was taking turns waiting with five friends. "For me, I believe that all policy is going to be a moral issue," she said. "And my morality is based on traditional biblical values."
She said she realized that her opposition to same-sex marriage made her something of a rarity among her peers. "I do know some people who are homosexual, yes," Ms. Hudgens said, recalling a recent Facebook conversation with someone who is gay who pointed out that while she would be nice to him to his face, she ultimately wanted to deny him equal rights.
"At the same time I believe rights were endowed to us by our creator, and our creator has a certain definition of marriage," she said. "And I'm going to stick with that."
For all their discomfort, the crowd was definitely well fed and adequately caffeinated. Several groups were passing out comfort items like plastic ponchos, pizza and coffee.
"The only problem is we need a bathroom," Ms. Clarke said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.