Dueling rallies to be held the week of March 26 are set to highlight the public marriage-equality debate as the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court hear opening arguments in two cases that could prove crucial to the fate of the LGBT-rights movement in the United States.
The first event, the ''United for Marriage: Light the Way to Justice!'' rally, in support of the right of same-sex couples to marry, is sponsored by the United for Marriage Coalition, comprised of several religious, civic, labor and LGBT rights groups from around the country.
The chief organizers of the coalition are the Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality USA, the Family Equality Council, GetEqual, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Good as You, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the New Organizing Institute. These coalition leaders are being joined by yet more "coalition partners," such as No Longer Silent/Clergy for Justice, the Log Cabin Republicans and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Scheduled speakers include Bishop Gene Robinson, the first out gay Episcopal bishop in the United States; his daughter, Ella Robinson, and the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, which recently announced it will perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
The second rally, dubbed the ''March for Marriage,'' is sponsored chiefly by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the lead organization backing state ballot measures such as California's Proposition 8. Other sponsors include the Family Research Council (FRC), Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family and the Coalition of African-American Pastors.
Both rallies are set to take place at opposite ends of the National Mall the morning of Tuesday, March 26. The court will hear opening arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, challenging Prop. 8, that day, followed by Windsor v. United States, challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) March 27.
The pro-marriage-equality United for Marriage forces will occupy a swath of land around 1st Street NE, adjacent the Supreme Court. The anti-gay Marriage March will start between 10th and 12th Streets NW and follow a route around the U.S. Capitol to the Supreme Court, then return to the Mall for a rally.
Pro-gay coalition is planning a larger ''roll out'' of events, relative to the Marriage March's one-day march and rally. Starting Saturday, March 23, organizers around the country will host demonstrations in their own locales. As of March 20, more than 150 events were scheduled in various cities from March 23 to 27.
For those coming to D.C., the United for Marriage Coalition is offering a training session for demonstrators Monday, March 25. That will be followed by an evening vigil, hosted by D.C.'s School Without Walls Gay-Straight Alliance, in front of the Supreme Court at 6:30 p.m.
The following morning, supporters of marriage equality will hold a 7:15 interfaith rally at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, located at East Capitol and 2nd Streets NE. Demonstrators will then move to the Supreme Court steps to take part in the United for Marriage rally, which will be followed by an interfaith seder at 5:30 p.m. at the Human Rights Campaign Equality Center on Rhode Island Avenue NW.
On Wednesday, March 27, the second day of oral arguments, proponents of marriage equality will gather again in front of the court for Day 2 of the United for Marriage rally, starting at 8:30 a.m.
Organizer Jeremy Hooper from Good as You told activists and media on a March 13 conference call that the anti-gay bloc is being bolstered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is helping organize protesters and having their bishops tell practicing Catholics it is their ''obligation'' to support the Marriage March, which will take place during the Holy Week celebrations leading up to Easter. Hooper also warned that some marriage-equality opponents were attempting to link the idea of same-sex couples marrying to the pro-life/anti-abortion movement by raising the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision securing abortion rights, and telling supporters, ''This is the new Roe.''
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was amended Thursday, March 21, 10:55 a.m., to remove the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from the sampling of United for Marriage coalition partners. While the ACLU is listed on the United for Marriage website, an ACLU representative has since reported to Metro Weekly that the organization maintains a neutral position on the marriage-equality cases.]