High court gay-marriage tickets worth wait, and cost, for many

First people started in line Thursday for landmark cases
2013-03-26T00:00:00Z High court gay-marriage tickets worth wait, and cost, for manyThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - The most expensive ticket to "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway: $477. The face value of a great seat for this year's Super Bowl: $1,250. Guaranteed seats to watch the U.S. Supreme Court hear this week's gay marriage cases: about $6,000.

Tickets to the two arguments that begin today are technically free. But getting them requires lining up days or hours ahead, or paying someone else to. The first people got in line Thursday, bringing the price of saving a seat to about $6,000.

For some, putting a value on the seats is meaningless.

"It's just not possible," said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights organization, which began employing two people to stand in line Thursday.

The court will hear arguments today over California's ban on same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the court will take up the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage say the cases are so potentially historic that they want to be inside the courtroom to watch, no matter what the cost in time or money.

Part of the reason the seats are so coveted is the court doesn't allow TV broadcasts of its arguments, so coming in person is the only way to see the justices at work. The court has said it will release transcripts of the hearings as well as audio recordings roughly two hours after each case ends, but advocates say that's no substitute for being there.

Seats, meanwhile, are at a premium because there aren't that many. The courtroom seats about 500 people, but seats are reserved for court staffers, journalists and guests of the justices and lawyers arguing the case. After those people are seated, there will be about 100 seats today for lawyers who are members of the Supreme Court bar and at least 60 seats for the general public. An additional 30 seats for the public will rotate every three to five minutes. Tickets for all those seats are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.

For the most controversial cases, the line to get those tickets can start to form about a day before. When the court heard three days of arguments on health care last year, the first people arrived three days early.

This time, the line started even earlier. By Monday morning there were more than three dozen people waiting, even as snow was falling. Several in the line said they were being paid, while others included college students and a substitute teacher. People in line said they passed the time talking and reading.

For those willing to pay to get in, several Washington services will hold a person's place in line. One company charges $36 per hour, another $50, meaning the cost of a five-day line stander comes in at $6,000. John Winslow, the operations manager of Linestanding.com, which like most other line-standing services is also a courier service, said his service would be holding places for 40 to 50 clients, a number of them lawyers. His group held about 35 places in line for the health care arguments last year, he said. Most people are starting their line-stander 24 hours before, so they'll spend $864 to attend, he said.

Linestanding.com's owner, Mark Gross, said for many of his clients, attending is personal.

"Health care was more about public policy and the direction that the country was going politically," Gross said. "But this really affects people in a personal way."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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