Why the Scene Outside the Supreme Court Is Part Tailgate, Part Debate Stage

Justices to hear arguments Tuesday on two same-sex marriage issues.

— -- The scene outside the Supreme Court today felt a lot like a football game tailgate party -- and for supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage who have spent days camped out to score a seat, Tuesday's oral arguments are the Super Bowl.

The justices will hear arguments into two related questions: one, whether states must allow same-sex couples to marry; and two, whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

There were at least sixty groups -- mainly supporters, but also some opponents -- who had been waiting on the corner of First and East Capitol Streets for days, hoping for a coveted chair inside the courtroom.

Frank Colasonti Jr. and his husband James Ryder of Birmingham, Michigan, were among the first in line. They said they had been there since Friday evening, snoozing in sleeping bags and hiding under tarps when it rained. But the partners for 27 years, husbands for the last one, said this argument was too important not to try to attend.

"We really never thought ..." Colasonti said before getting choked up.

"We really never thought we'd see it in our lifetime," Ryder said, finishing his husband’s sentence.

"It really never seemed like an option that it would ever happen," he continued, noting that they had filed their income taxes jointly for the first time this year.

The couple was among some 300 spouses who married on a single day in 2014 when Michigan's gay marriage ban was temporarily lifted. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder later said he would not contest the validity of those marriages although the ban was reinstated.

Michigan is one of four states arguing in favor of their same-sex marriage bans. The others are Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

Besides the many same-sex couples and their families who flocked from those states, there were many law students who wanted to see a case that future classes will likely study.

"However this is decided it's going to be one of the most iconic and well-read cases in casebooks so this is going to be really exciting to be here," Wyatt Fore, a third-year law student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor said. He said he had been in place, lawn chair and law books in tow, since Friday night.

Emotions and opinions on both sides of Tuesday's arguments run high, but at this unique gathering of legal minds, students, same-sex couples and pastors, the tendency is to live and let live -- or in this case, wait and let wait.

Pastor Rick Grogan of Fort Worth, Texas, acknowledged that he was one of the few opponents of same-sex marriage camped out, a buoy in a sea of Human Rights Campaign banners and rainbow flags.

"You've got, what, 20-something states who have banned it in their constitution. Now, nine people are going to tell the whole nation what to do," he said, sprawled on a blanket with an opened Bible in his hand.

But he said the discourse among his neighbors had been respectful. After all, if people toss footballs around during a pre-game tailgate, why wouldn't they engage in elevated debate before a Supreme Court argument?

"Even though people disagree, it's been pleasant so far," Grogan said.

As he spoke, a group of same-sex marriage supporters from Kentucky posed for a group picture, just steps away.