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Gay marriage rivals brush off snow to witness historic arguments

For Jason Wonacott, the chance to witness a milestone in the fight for same-sex marriage is worth four nights sleeping on concrete in the rain and snow.

Wonacott, 25, has been in line since Friday on the plaza in front of the Supreme Court, seeking a ticket to see the justices hear arguments today in a case that may determine whether same-sex couples have the right to marry.

“It’s just such an important and historic case that affects me personally because I’m gay and I’d like to get married one day,” Wonacott said. “It seemed like it was a bold and kind of crazy thing to do to show how important this is to me and how historic it’s going to be.”

Wonacott is one of about 75 would-be Supreme Court spectators on both sides of the gay marriage issue who endured a spring snowstorm to secure their places in line for a limited number of Supreme Court seats.

The nation’s high court is set to consider same-sex marriage for the first time, taking up arguments today on Proposition 8, a 2008 California ballot measure passed by voters that bars such unions.

Tomorrow, the court will weigh the legality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing gay unions on issues including benefits.

The court will decide the cases by June.

Not everyone intent on witnessing the arguments is braving the cold.

Mark Jansson, 68, of Elk Grove, Calif., hired line-sitters to hold three spots in the spectator line. Jansson, a volunteer for Protect Marriage, a group that opposes same-sex marriage, declined to disclose how much he was paying his placeholders.

“We’ve gotten some great kids to help us out here,” he said of the women sitting in lawn chairs, shielded by a tarp that protected them from the snowflakes. “We believe that marriage is ordained of God. We’re very concerned what could happen (today) with the Supreme Court, but we’re excited as well.”

One of the women, who would only identify herself as Taylor, said they had been provided with hot chocolate and food as temperatures dropped.

Several people who indicated they were waiting in line on behalf of others declined to discuss who hired them or the amount they were receiving for staying in the queue.

“It’s ridiculous,” Aaron Black, 39, a same-sex marriage supporter, said of the paid line-sitters. “The people who are passionate about the issue and are putting in time to come down here should be able to go in.”

Black is part of a group that plans to demonstrate in front of the court today. He said he expects thousands to attend.

“It’s appalling that people don’t have equal rights at this point. Enough is enough,” he said.

Cordell Asbenson, 21, who said he believes marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, started his wait at 10 p.m. Saturday.

While he’s not opposed to paid line-sitters, he said experiencing the arguments in the same-sex marriage case will be more memorable for those who camped out themselves.

“It will mean more to us going in there, I feel, than to those who didn’t come out here because we’ve had to suffer through the cold and the sleeping outside,” he said.

Wonacott, who has worked as a consultant at the Energy Department, said that he’s benefited from the kindness of friends and strangers during his marathon wait. Visitors have regularly offered food, including a delivery of pizza that he shared with others in line, he said.

“I have way too much food,” said Wonacott, who has posted about his experience sleeping for six hours in the snow on his blog blondemillennial.com. “People keep bringing me all this food. I’m very appreciative, but I’m like, I can’t eat any more.”

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