Justice of the peace J.M. Sorrell in crowd outside court
J.M. Sorrell, a justice of the peace from Haydenville who created this poster, was one of an estimated 6,000 people outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Tuesday where it heard arguments about the ban on gay marriages in California.
Demonstrators chant outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2013, as the court heard arguments on California's voter approved ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
J.M. Sorrell said she couldn’t imagine being anywhere else Tuesday except lending her voice and support to those outside the Supreme Court in Washington hoping the court overturns California’s ban on gay marriages.
Sorrell, a justice of the peace and a Haydenville resident, said she was among about 6,000 people outside the courthouse, and plans to be back this morning as the court takes up the question of whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional.
“I’ve been in this for the long haul,” she said by telephone Tuesday. “I couldn’t imagine not being here.”
Sorrell said she’s performed about 556 marriages of same-sex couples since it became legal in Massachusetts in 2004, including some of the state’s first.
She said opponents of California’s Proposition 8 outside the courthouse outnumbered supporters, which seems to mirror polls that suggest a majority of the American public supports gay marriage.
Sorrell said most of the Proposition 8 supporters she encountered outside the courthouse were basing their objections on moral or ethical grounds, not on keeping the ban in place as a state’s rights issue.
She said a decision by the court to leave it up to individual states to determine the rights of same-sex couples would be frustrating because many of the civil rights victories the country now takes for granted, like non-segregation of public facilities, might not have been won at all if left up to individual states to decide.
Sorrell said the optimism of gay rights supporters has been buoyed by the outpouring of public support from around the country.
While the court may decide not to strike down Proposition 8, leaving it up for California to decide on its own, supporters feel more hopeful the court will determine DOMA, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, is unconstitutional and must be struck down, Sorrell said.
“To eliminate it seems the only legal recourse,” she said.
Sorrell said DOMA prevents federal recognition of same-sex married couples and prevents them from enjoying the same rights as heterosexual couples.
“It’s the first federal law signed to discriminate against people,” she said.
For example, she said, DOMA prevents a surviving member of a gay marriage from accessing the Social Security benefits of his or her deceased partner, the way a surviving member of a heterosexual marriage would be able to.
“There are survivors of gay and lesbian couples who become impoverished because they can’t collect SSI,” Sorrell said. “I’ve seen it. It’s painful and horrible.”
Sorrell said she’s been impressed by the tenacity of those who have been lining up outside the courthouse for hours, and sometimes days, to try to get one of the coveted seats available for the public inside or just to lend their support.
“I’ve got a lot of admiration for the kids who did this for five nights,” she said.
By 6 p.m. Tuesday, she said, there were already people camping outside to try to get a seat for today’s arguments.
Sorrell said she plans to speak at a rally today in support of overturning DOMA. She and other observers expect it will be about six to eight weeks before the court rules on both questions before it.