Protesters Clash Outside High Court faces off against gay rights groups on courthouse steps

WASHINGTON—Amid the heated debate surrounding a key military recruitment case argued before the Supreme Court, a small but fiery group of protesters braved the frigid winter weather here yesterday to voice their opinions on the Solomon Amendment.

On a sidewalk adjacent to the icy steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, activists from a political hodgepodge of advocacy groups congregated to express their views on the Solomon Amendment, the statute at the center of the Rumsfeld v. FAIR case argued at the high court yesterday.

But over the course of the morning and afternoon, groups of protesters never surpassed more than 40 people at one time.

Prior to the 10 a.m. oral arguments, a group of six people protesting on behalf of, an anti-gay website sponsored by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., picketed on the bottom stairs of the court while yelling epithets against homosexuals.

“Shut your filthy mouths about your perversion or you’re going to hell,” one protester yelled, displaying a sign that read “Fags Doom Nation.”

“Actually, you’re already going to hell,” another bellowed.

A student at the New York University School of Law, Bert Leatherman, stood in line as protesters chanted slogans over his head.

Leatherman, who interviewed for the Judge Advocate General Corps despite the fact that he is gay, said that he was personally distraught by the fact that he will not be able to carry on his family’s long tradition of military service.

“My dad and my uncle went to West Point, my granddad was in the Navy, and my other granddad went to a military academy. But I don’t have the opportunities that they were able to have,” he said.

Leatherman said the fact that Rumsfeld v. FAIR does not directly address the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which forbids open homosexuals from serving in the military, makes the case insignificant to the larger goals of the gay rights movement.

“If we lose today, it’s no big deal. The bigger question is whether it’s constitutional and whether it’s American to deny gay people the same opportunities that our straight peers have,” he said.

As the day progressed, the demonstrations modulated in tenor when protesters began propounding their views on issues like the war in Iraq and the Bush presidency.

Later in the afternoon, a new wave of protesters flooded the exterior of the court in conjunction with the Campus Anti-War Network’s “National Day of Counter-Recruitment,” a multi-city demonstration organized to voice opposition to the Solomon Amendment and the Iraq war, according to the group’s website.

Upon arriving, the 40-person antiwar group clashed with an equally passionate throng of 15 Solomon Amendment supporters.

At one point, the two groups fought for acoustic superiority as they simultaneously belted out renditions of “God Bless America” and an original antiwar song.

But after the dual came to a close, the protesters returned to using megaphones and amplifiers to bombard pedestrians and legal experts exiting the court.

“We’re not going to stop until the last recruiter is kicked off campus,” said University of Maryland student Rayyan Ghuma, a member of the Campus Anti-War Network.

But pro-Solomon demonstrator Allison Kasic said she found the resistance to the military painful because of the large number of friends she has in the armed services.

“It just really hurts when people start being anti-troops,” she said while flashing a pro-military sign at a passing car.

“Colleges and universities are the places of free speech for a lot of people, and it is disheartening for military recruiters to be kicked off campus,” she said.

—Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at jhernand@fas.harvard.