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As a herd of television reporters conducted stand-ups across the street from the California Supreme Court for the morning news on Tuesday, a woman passing by asked if they were covering the gay marriage cases. When told yes, she enthusiastically urged gay couples to fight those who would block their marriages. “Keep it up,” she said. “They ain’t got no right to deny anybody love.” It was a day of high emotions and media frenzy as the high court held a rare two-hour oral argument to determine whether San Francisco exceeded its authority by issuing marriage licenses to more than 4,000 same-sex couples, and whether those licenses should be invalidated. The hearing was a big draw — inside and outside the courthouse. The press easily outnumbered protesters. Vans from seven television stations or satellite networks were camped outside the court, while reporters from most of the state’s major newspapers and news services gathered inside. The hearing was televised on the California Channel, C-SPAN, Court TV and KTVU Channel 2. Security guards roamed the building’s perimeter, while others lurked behind the shrubbery, watching for trouble. A woman dressed as a bride stood across the street, telling TV reporters why she had married, as did an interracial male couple that got hitched on Feb. 12. If opponents of gay marriage were in attendance, they kept quiet and all but invisible. Some of the most prominent protesters pushed agendas that defied easy description. One man carried a sign marked with a swastika on one side. On the other, he expressed a desire to see Attorney General “Wild Bill Lockyer” — whose office opposes the city’s issuance of gay marriage licenses — share an 8-by-10 cell with a “tattooed dude” named Spike. Lockyer had wished the same fate on former Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth Lay three years ago. The court, expecting a crush of people, had stationed employees at doors on both sides of the courthouse to issue “guest” passes allowing admission to the courtroom or to a 200-seat downstairs auditorium with a big-screen TV link to the action. Court employees and California Highway Patrol officers guarded both rooms, and admission was denied without a pass. The courtroom itself was mostly business as usual, except for the presence of three stationary TV cameras and one still photographer who roamed about snapping shots quietly. The seven justices aren’t star-struck by TV, having worked in front of cameras before — most recently in San Jose in December in a case involving religious freedom. But on Tuesday, the justices seemed more animated than usual, shooting out questions rapid fire — almost causing hand cramps for the press corps — as they fell over each other to get in the next word. Therese Stewart, the deputy city attorney arguing the case for San Francisco, got the raw end of the deal, having to defend her position for a grueling straight hour of interrogation. Her opponents, Deputy AG Timothy Muscat and Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, had the luxury of arguing about 20 minutes each, with 10 minutes rebuttal at most. After the arguments, the justices took a rare break while the bailiffs escorted the arguing attorneys out of the room first, followed by the press and then the public. It was a step aimed at easing the flow outside the building where a huge press conference ensued. Fifteen TV cameras and a gaggle of still photographers faced the lawyers, who explained their positions and their thoughts on the court’s questions — all the while backed by a little man who roams town carrying a “12 Galaxies” sign that makes no sense. Stewart got cheers and applause from the crowd — many carrying signs saying, “We All Deserve the Right to Marry” — while her opponent Lorence was all but drowned out by loud chants. As Stewart left, a cameraman filming her in the chaos almost backed into a passing car on McAllister Street. If not for her shouts of “Watch out! Watch out!” he might have been hit. Meanwhile, Kathryn Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a local guru on gay issues, faced the press on the courthouse steps, saying that the court’s hearing left her with both hopes and fears. The justices “seemed very concerned about the mayor’s actions,” she said, but also appeared worried about violating couples’ due process rights by invalidating their marriages. “None of the couples who got married are parties to today’s hearings,” Kendell said, “and to invalidate their marriages is a dramatic thing to do” without giving them a chance to defend their rights in court. Earlier in the day, Molly McKay, the woman in the bride’s dress, had said that she and others realized that the court wasn’t going to address the constitutionality of same-sex marriages. But they felt compelled to be there anyway. “We wanted to keep people’s thoughts on the couples who are impacted by the decisions,” said McKay, who is with Marriage Equality California, a group advocating gay rights. “We will eventually win.” Disclosure: McKee and his partner are one of the same-sex couples issued a marriage license.

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