I started to realize that I was gay one year after the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriages across the nation. As I was figuring out who I was, I was lucky enough to know that whether I was gay, straight or somewhere in between, I would be able to marry whoever I wanted.
Of course, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights didn’t end with Obergefell. Employment discrimination and adoption rights were still up in the air, along with a whole bunch of other issues that affected other members of my new community. But in 2016, it was a relief to know my ability to get married when I was older, no matter who I loved, would be a non-issue — at least from a legal standpoint.
That’s why watching events over the last few weeks has been so disappointing. Instead of seeing continued advancement of LGBTQ+ rights, it’s looking like open season on the few victories we’ve already achieved. Earlier this month, Justices Thomas and Alito openly criticized the court’s ruling in Obergefell. This attack on what seemed like a settled issue is incredibly concerning in and of itself, but it’s made much more so in the wake of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Some people, of course, will say that queer people’s concerns are ridiculous or unwarranted. However, today’s non-queer Americans have never known how it feels to see their right — their privilege — to marry whomever they please be attacked by their own government. For them, it may be difficult to understand the state of fear queer people are living in right now as they watch their government play with the idea of rolling back their rights.
These Americans, unlike their queer counterparts, likely haven’t considered the realities of a world where Obergefell v. Hodges is overruled — a world where already-married same-sex couples wonder where their marriage stands in the eyes of the law, and young queer people come of age with the painful knowledge that their country refuses to protect their basic right to marry. The Obergefell ruling was — and still is — a cause for joy for queer people. It was a ruling that seemed like a sign that the government was finally making progress on LGBTQ+ rights and protecting our freedoms like those of any other American. Today, the reversal of Obergefell is feeling more and more like a real possibility, and it’s scary to contemplate a world where I and my community, instead of seeing continued progress, are even further marginalized by the government and once more deprived of our freedom to marry the people we love.
Still, there are undoubtedly those who are dismissing the concerns that queer people have for their rights in the wake of Justice Barrett’s confirmation. Barrett herself said in her confirmation hearings that she felt it was unlikely that the Obergefell ruling would face a challenge due to the precedent it set. The thing is, it’s difficult to take any of these reassurances seriously.
Justice Barrett cements a 6-3 conservative majority on the Court. Three of those conservatives dissented in the case of Obergefell, and the other three were nominated after Obergefell by a president whose party explicitly states in their platform that they “do not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage and urge its reversal.” Justice Barrett has said that her legal philosophy is the same as that of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a notorious opponent of LGBTQ+ rights — and another dissenter in Obergefell.
Obergefell isn’t the end of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, either. Cases with major implications for the rights of queer people are still coming before the Court. On Nov. 4, the Supreme Court — including Justice Barrett — will be hearing the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case with major implications for the adoption rights of same-sex couples. Depending on the ruling the Court makes in this case, adoption agencies could be given the authority to reject qualified same-sex couples as foster parents purely on the basis of their sexuality. Even if Obergefell doesn’t get overruled as a consequence of Justice Barrett’s addition to the court, the fact remains that even today, the Court is making decisions about whether or not the rights of LGBTQ+ people should be protected.
In the face of all of that, frankly, I refuse to be told that I don’t have cause for concern.
Watching Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation process made me — and many others — feel helpless, and like our voices have been completely ignored. The GOP clearly didn’t care that a majority of Americans were in favor of waiting to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat until after the election, or that COVID-19 was ripping its way through their party leaders even as they rushed Barrett’s nomination through in just 30 days — for context, on average, Supreme Court confirmations take over twice that amount of time. The outlook for LGBTQ+ rights, as well as other significant issues like health care and the election, can seem grim in the face of Justice Barrett’s confirmation.
But there is something we can do. Vote. The fight for RBG’s seat may be lost, but there will be more Supreme Court vacancies, as well as vacancies on lower courts. When they occur, the President will pick nominees to fill them. The Senate will vote to confirm them. You may not vote on Supreme Court justices, but your vote still shapes the Court’s composition.
The (not-so) old adage in the LGBTQ+ community is, “It gets better.” But in this situation, that’s not going to happen without a little bit — or a lot — of work on our part. So if you’re feeling scared, helpless, angry or any combination of the three, get out and vote for candidates who will make sure this country continues to work towards liberty and justice for all.
Sam is a freshman and his major is currently undecided. How do you feel about the future of queer rights in America? Is fear justified in the wake of Barrett’s confirmation? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org