From a cupcake bakery in Oakland and a Latino church in San Jose to the snowy steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, Bay Area residents are anxiously awaiting arguments to begin Tuesday in the contentious and historic same-sex marriage debate that began on the steps of San Francisco City Hall.
"It's the civil rights issue of our time," said Jordan Haedtler, of Oakland, who traveled to Washington and has been camping out in the wet snow in front of the Supreme Court for three days hoping to snag a seat for Tuesday's arguments.
"We always said if it went all the way to the Supreme Court, we'd go," said Haedtler, who is straight but wants his gay friends to gain the right to marry.
Whether they have a direct stake in the issue or not, people across the Bay Area are closely following a case that challenges traditional notions of family, but one that many believe is a fundamental issue of equality. Tuesday, the justices will hear arguments over whether California's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, is unconstitutional. On Wednesday, the court takes up the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits.
The court's decisions in the landmark cases are expected in June, more than nine years after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defied state law by allowing gay weddings at City Hall. California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was San Francisco's district attorney when the first gay weddings were performed there, has a reserved seat in the courtroom.
So does San Franciscan Jean Podrasky, who is the first cousin of Chief Justice John Roberts and traveled to Washington this week with her lesbian partner. Despite his conservative reputation, Roberts sided with the majority last year upholding President Barack Obama's health-care law and is considered unpredictable on same-sex marriage.
In an open letter she wrote for the National Center for Lesbian Rights published on Monday, Podrasky called Roberts "a good man" who is "wise enough to see that society is becoming more accepting of the humanity of same-sex couples."
It is an issue, however, that still divides the state and country. But just as Obama's position on same-sex marriage "evolved" since he first took office in 2009, many have changed their attitudes. While 52 percent of voters approved the Proposition 8 ban in the 2008 election, a Field Poll last month shows 61 percent of California voters approve of same-sex marriage now. Only 32 percent disapprove.
Nestor Morales, a pastor at Amor Agape church in South San Jose, is one of them. While he isn't "crusading" against gay marriage, he hopes the court upholds Proposition 8.
"We love gay people, and Jesus loves them, too. But we are just going to maintain our ground that marriage is sacred, and is between a man and a woman," Morales said. "We are not judges; God will judge. God is the highest authority, and he is going to judge even the judges."
Henry Heller, 85, lives in an assisted living facility in Gilroy and said the same-sex marriage debate is one more sign that the "Democrats' war on religion is paying off."
Marriage, he said, should remain between a man and a woman. "If two women want to live together or two guys, all right, fine," he said, "but I don't think they should be considered man and wife."
Angella Tai, a 34-year-old real estate agent from Los Altos, says she hopes people will change their minds like her conservative Chinese mother did.
"It took me years with my mother, but she has changed her point of view and absolutely adores my fiancée," said Tai, 34, who plans to wed her partner next summer. "We would like it to be legal. In our hearts we really want that."
But the case is bigger than that, she said. "We have the opportunity to become a better nation, a nation of equality and a nation of fairness."
It's an ideal shared by Dashiel Ridolfi-Starr, the 17-year-old son of Linda Starr and Cookie Ridolfi of San Jose, who have been a couple for 25 years. The high school senior and his older sister were conceived through artificial insemination. While his mothers have no immediate plans to marry, the whole family is fixated on the case.
"It would allow my family to have the same opportunities that every other family has and to be perceived as every other family is," Ridolfi-Starr said, "not just some makeshift collection of relatives."
In Oakland, Janet Appel has seen firsthand the power of marriage among same-sex couples. She performed the first gay marriage ceremony in Alameda County in 2008 during the five months gay marriage was legal in California before Proposition 8 banned it.
"For them to have lost that right is just gut-wrenching," said Appel, a volunteer deputy marriage commissioner for the county clerk-recorder's office. "When they bury Prop. 8, please dear God, it will be redemption for most of us that believe that all people are equal."
Kevin Bell is 36, a veteran raised in Livermore and living in Manteca who calls the whole debate "silly."
"I think we're going to look back in 20 years and say 'Why were we still arguing about this stuff?' " said Bell, who is married with three children and runs That Takes The Cake bakery in Oakland. "I don't have a huge stake in the whole thing. It doesn't affect me directly. But it just seems ... why shouldn't we allow people to be who they want to be with and have the same rights as everyone else?"
Staff writers Katy Murphy and Mike Rosenberg contributed to this report.