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Days Before Marriage Arguments, Dozens Wait For A Seat In The Supreme Court

The hottest ticket in town is not the White House Correspondents' Dinner. By noon Saturday, nearly four dozen people were waiting in line outside the Supreme Court for Tuesday's arguments over states' same-sex marriage bans.

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Frank Colasonti Jr., left, and James Barclay Ryder were one of about 300 couples who married in the brief window last spring when same-sex couples could marry in Michigan.

"We were the first couple in Oakland County," Colasonti told BuzzFeed News on Saturday afternoon. "We were in line at 6 a.m. on that date — and that was freezing."

Today, they are in another line: #17 and #18 in the line of people that began forming in front of the Supreme Court at 6 a.m. Friday, April 24. That was 100 hours before the justices will hear arguments over the constitutionality of bans on same-sex couples' marriages from four states, including Michigan.

"We were together 26 years, a 26-year engagement, and we got married last year — on March 22, 2014 — and we just celebrated our first anniversary," Colosanti said.

Following a district court ruling on March 21, 2014 that struck down Michigan's marriage ban, the county clerk where Colosanti and Ryder live announced that same-sex couples would be able to marry. The couple was smart to get in line: The marriages only continued for a few hours, before an appeals court quickly put the ruling on hold during appeal. The appeals court later upheld the ban on marriages, prompting the Supreme Court case.

And though Colasonti and Ryder were able to marry, they are still front and center awaiting this week's arguments.

"The rest of the people can't get married in Michigan. So, we feel an obligation, a duty, until everyone can get married, that we need to fight for everybody else still," Ryder said. "We just got lucky, that's all."

"I've slept on the sidewalks of courts across this country," said Kathleen Perrin, 15th in line. "I've attended all but one of the courts of appeals hearings, I was at the Michigan trial — I watched that trial."

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Perrin has herself become part of the story of marriage equality in recent years. What began as a simple effort to provide easy, online access to legal documents in the handful of marriage cases around the country in 2010, her Equality Case Files have become an essential clearinghouse for the daily developments in dozens of cases that have percolated up across the country since 2013.

"That's what I do," she said, laughing. She said it's an effort "to support both journalists and people who have no background in media or law with a way to gain access to and an understanding of how the courts work, the significance of it, why people make arguments in court that seem absurd to people in their lives."

Perrin had attempted to get into the arguments through the Public Information Office in a press seat — as she had done in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals arguments in January over the marriage bans in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas — but she was denied.

"I'm sitting out here, unfortunately," she said. "I did apply for a media pass, as a legal correspondent for an LGBT media organization [Frontiers magazine], but we were from California and we got turned down. So, I'm out here instead."

Nonetheless, Perrin is in line with the same group of people she had met when waiting in line to hear the arguments over California's Proposition 8 in 2013 — including Colasonti and Ryder, as well as Jason Hewett, who came up from outside Atlanta to be #16 in line for the arguments.

"This is old hat for us, so we're as ready as can be," Hewett said. "Just aside from the historical significance of it, being a gay man myself, it's just — this is the place to be."

The four of them, however, are the first people spending the weekend in line who actually intend to sit in the courtroom on Tuesday morning. Although many wouldn't speak about the specifics, the first 14 people in line on Saturday afternoon — those who lined up two hours before Perrin arrived at 8 a.m. on April 24 — are being paid to stand in line for others. Others in the line (generally younger people) are holding places for older family members.

A few of the 46 people in line by 1 p.m. on Saturday acknowledged as much: #1 said he supports marriage equality, but was holding the spot for someone else.

That person is Robin Tyler, the veteran California activist. Tyler was also one of the plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits that initially brought marriage equality to California before the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008. Tyler confirmed to BuzzFeed News that she had the #1 spot at the court.

Another person, #19, said he is holding a place for his aunt, who had to travel to New York this weekend. A young woman toward the end of the line — #38 to #42 — said that she and her friends were being paid by her father to hold places in line.

The first 14 places in line, however, appeared to be more formal business arrangements — a fact discussed openly among those waiting in the line. When asked about the situation, however, #10 told BuzzFeed News that he was "really busy" and couldn't talk. He was later heard on his phone telling someone, "I'm working now."

Toward the end of the 46 people waiting in front of the Supreme Court on Saturday afternoon were three people who have been helping with the Michigan case — self-identified "DeBoer groupies."

#43, #44, and #45 know April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, the plaintiffs in the Michigan marriage case, well.

"I got here at probably 10:30 or 11 last night, and there was already a line," Wyatt Fore, a third-year law student at the University of Michigan, told BuzzFeed News. "I called them [#44 and #45] and said, 'If you can leave right now, you can be here by 6 o'clock in the morning, and sure enough they did and they were."

So, for the next days, Abbye Klamann, a second-year law student at Michigan, and Stephanie Augustyniak, a friend of Carol Stanyer — one of the original lawyers behind the Michigan case — will be waiting to see what happens to the case.

"It's always been really personal to us," Klamann said, "It means a lot to us, and now to have it mean so much on a national scale is really — to us, it started as a little adoption case in 2011."

That it did, but U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman asked the couple to consider amending their complaint seeking equal adoption rights to include a challenge to the underlying marriage ban itself. They did, and — after only the third full trial over the constitutionality of a marriage ban — Friedman found the ban to be unconstitutional.

Thirteen months later, the case is at the Supreme Court — and the DeBoer groupies wouldn't miss it.

"Case like this only come once in a generation," Fore said, referencing the civil rights cases of the 1960s. "To be able to witness ... the actual justices conversing with the lead attorneys, I just think is such an important moment — to be here to support, not only the attorneys and the movement, but to witness history."

Even as the dozens of people waiting outside the court are eagerly awaiting the two-and-a-half hour arguments over the future of marriage on Tuesday, there is at least one couple waiting in line who already are married — beneficiaries of the legal wave that has overtaken the country since the last time some of the same people camped out awaiting big marriage cases at the court.

Colasonti started: "We never expected —"

Ryder interjected: "We never expected that we'd be —

"Married," Colasonti said.

"— under the 300 people," Ryder said.

"Never," Colasonti said, still with a whiff of disbelief.

"I never thought in my life," Ryder continued. "It was unattainable goal. Like me being a rock star. 'It's not likely I'm going to be a rock star in my life' kind of thing. It didn't seem like a possibility, and then all of these things started cascading into this huge thing."

Shortly thereafter, the 46 people lined up neatly along the edge of the court's landscaping were asked to move themselves and their supplies temporarily about 10 feet across the sidewalk to allow fresh mulch — with its fresh mulch smell — to be placed along the edge of the landscaping.

Then, as the dozens awaited the end of their brief relocation, it began raining.

Almost in unison — like the Rockettes of 1 First Street — the tarps came out.

It was 2 p.m. Saturday.

Only 68 hours to go.

Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.

Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.

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