WASHINGTON, April - The debate over gay marriage in America, one of the leading social issues of this era, played out on the sidewalks outside the US Supreme Court on Tuesday as the nine black-robed justices weighed the arguments inside.
"You people are wicked, an abomination to God," a demonstrator against legalizing same-sex marriage told gay rights supporters on a public address system set up outside the courthouse.
The gay marriage supporters, who outnumbered those who were opposed, sang the US national anthem to try to drown out the demonstrator's voice.
The scene was raucous outside the columned, white marble edifice, with the combined crowd from both sides of the issue estimated at more than a thousand gathered for the court's historic arguments on whether the US Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
Gay marriage supporters included Shelly Bailes, 74, and Ellen Pontac, 73, a lesbian couple who met on a blind date 41 years ago and married in California six years ago. They travelled to Washington on Friday from Davis, California.
Pontac carried a sign with the message "Life feels different when you're married."
Reacting to the demonstrators against gay marriage, Bailes said: "It's very sad that people have to hate in order to show how they feel. I think they should just go home and shut their mouths. Usually, when we see people like that, we just stand in front of them and start kissing."
On the other side of the issue, Jennifer Marshall, 43, from the Washington suburb of Annandale, Virginia, held a sign saying "Every Child Deserves a Mom and Dad."
"There's a big debate about what marriage should be. The Supreme Court should let that debate continue. I'm for the definition of marriage in the law as between a man and woman," Marshall said. "Redefining marriage would further distance child-bearing from the institution of marriage."
Gay marriage advocates held up signs with slogans such as "Love for all" and "America is ready for freedom to marry." Signs displayed by gay marriage opponents included one calling gay sex sinful and another stating "Satan rules over all, the children of pride."
Los Angeles resident Ruben Israel, 55, who opposes gay marriage, said: "We don't find any male to male marriage in the Bible. There is no woman to woman marriage."