Supreme Court Crowd Has Professional, Personal Stakes In Same Sex Marriage Hearings

6:23 AM, Mar 27, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - On the second day of hearings on same sex marriage cases, the Supreme Court will decide whether a part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that says marriage is between only a man and a woman is constitutional or not.  As President, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act -- or DOMA -- into law. Both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have since shifted their views on same sex marriage.

The law bars married same sex couples from receiving federal benefits. Justices will look at the case of a New York woman who sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after the woman she married died in 2009. If Edith Windsor would have married a man, then the estate tax bill would have been $0.

While we don't expect the court to issue any decisions for a couple of months that is not stopping a very vigorous debate. Wednesday morning, the line outside the Supreme Court is significantly longer than it was at the same time Tuesday morning for arguments involving California's Proposition 8. The crowd wraps around the block and actually heads down to the next corner. There are two lines: one for Bar members and one for the public. Some people are actually paid placeholders but many people are representing themselves because they have a stake in the debate over same sex marriage.

We spoke to Abigail Cromwell, a member of the Bar from Massachusetts who was in the courthouse Tuesday. She told us, "I loved the hearings. I think that either way, that same sex marriage will be made legal in California. I think there's a couple of different ways the court can go, whether they dismiss it on procedural grounds, I don't know. That's a really complicated issue. I saw five justices maybe six, that to me seemed to really favor granting equal rights to same sex couples, in particular Justice Kennedy.

"Is it fair to really read into your impressions or read into what they said on the bench? Or do you think it could go either way?" we asked her.

Cromwell replied, "... I think Justice Kennedy is going to recognize the equal protection issues for same sex couples. I don't see this going the other way."

As for her expectations for Wednesday, Cromwell shared, "I think that we will see an opinion actually offered by Chief Justice Roberts finding DOMA unconstitutional ... I think that Justice Roberts cares about his opinions very much and his reputation in history, and I think he wants to -- I think he sees the way this country is going, and he is going to want to get ahead of it and put his name on it and go down in history as the justice that allowed gay marriage in the country." 

Many others are outside because they have a stake in this debate and want to be here when history is made after the two rounds of hearings at the Supreme Court. It's getting a lot of national and worldwide attention.

Victoria Fitzpatrick, who is originally from London, came to Washington, D.C. specifically for the proceedings. She has a professional and a personal stake in what's happening there. Fitzpatrick is a lawyer for a firm representing a man who is legally married to another man in Massachusetts, but sho is not allowed to sign the benefit of the federal judge pension to his husband because of DOMA.

Fitzpatrick lived in California for five years, but says she was  hesitant to move back to the States. "I'm hesitant because I currently live in London. I currently live in a country which recognizes me as fully fledged first class citizen. I am able to enter into a civil partnership with my partner. That civil partnership is recognized in exactly the same way as marriage would be if we were heterosexual couple," explained Fitzpatrick.

She continued, "Since 2004 and more recently, the government has decided that they will change the name of civil partnerships to marriage. So in a matter of -- we hope probably within the year, that we will have equal marriage in the UK. And that is the same case in many countries in Europe and I'm not inclined to move back to a country that would -- would treat me as a second class citizen purely because of the fact that I'm gay. And it's a shame because I love America. And I really, really would love to move back but I'm not willing to take the hit on my civil rights."

A CBS Poll says 60% of Americans actually would like to see DOMA reversed and the federal government recognize gay marriage. We asked Fitzpatrick if she felt the tide is turning in the States and has it already around the world specifically in the UK.

"Yeah, absolutely turned in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Even Catholic countries like Spain are really getting on board with same sex marriage. And basically they're getting it done. It's a shame they're taking so long in the States. I think there's still a lot of work to do. There's a lot of opposition especially probably in middle America. While people are more comfortable on the coasts. It's just a matter of keeping at it, of getting to the Supreme Court, of making people aware what the issues still are and for the gay community trying to be as physical as possible to get out there and win over the hearts and minds of America."

As for whether she thought  she could  be a part of history, Fitzgerald told us, "Absolutely. Here's hoping."

WUSA 9 will be following what happens at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. We will have updates on and on our newscasts, which stream live online.

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