Gay couples race to wed over fears for future of same-sex marriage

Dan Avery
·7 min read

As the Supreme Court tilts further right following the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, some LGBTQ Americans are worried about the future of same-sex marriage.

A number of couples are taking matters into their own hands and rushing to the altar for fear of this recently won right being chipped away at or even reversed.

A week after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend Barrett, Pastor Tori Jameson organized a series of wedding ceremonies outside St. Louis City Hall.

“I was really feeling upset about the nomination — she’s dangerous for LGBTQ people; she’s made it clear she wants to roll back our rights,” Jameson, who runs Lot’s Wife Trans and Queer Chaplaincy, said of the high court’s newest justice.

During her confirmation hearings, Barrett indicated that if there was a challenge to Obergefell v Hodges, the 2015 case that brought federal recognition of same-sex marriage, it’s likely that lower courts “would shut such a lawsuit down” before it made it to the Supreme Court.

But she has previously defended Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent in Obergefell that same-sex marriage should be decided by the states.

“Those who want same-sex marriage, you have every right to lobby in state legislatures to make that happen, but the dissent’s view was that it wasn’t for the court to decide,” she said in a 2016 lecture at Jacksonville University. One year earlier — and just months after the Obergefell ruling — Barrett signed an open letter to Catholic bishops defining marriage as the “indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.”

Her lifelong association with the insular Christian community People of Praise has also raised alarms. In 2018, the group’s leader, Craig Lent, told the South Bend Tribune that anyone who admitted to homosexual activity would have their membership ended. The group also condemns sex outside of marriage, an institution it reserves for heterosexuals.

Barrett herself served as a trustee at several People of Praise-affiliated schools in which children of same-sex parents were effectively barred, The Associated Press reported.

Barrett, for her part, told the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearings that she has and will continue to set aside her personal religious beliefs when deciding on cases.

‘Joyous queer love’

Jameson, who uses they/them pronouns, described talking with “young queer community members” who are “really scared about having to go back in the closet.”

“If they come for [marriage], they’re going to come for their job protections, gender-identity protections,” Jameson said of the increasingly conservative Supreme Court.

To help make this month’s pop-up elopements as celebratory as possible, Jameson organized chaplains, photographers, cupcakes and even decorations.

Image: Cyd and Getty (Alecia Hoyt / xoxoalice.com)
Image: Cyd and Getty (Alecia Hoyt / xoxoalice.com)

“It was really important to give people a big public event to look at and have some joy,” Jameson said. “This was a protest, but it was also a way to celebrate with joyous queer love.”

Jameson and other clergy married 14 couples between Oct. 11 and 15, including Macklan King and their partner, Silas, who both use they/them pronouns. The two had been engaged since 2018, “so we didn't feel like we were rushing into things,” according to King.

But Barrett’s appointment was definitely on their mind, King added.

“Silas and I wanted to make sure to claim our legal rights before marriage equality is possibly overturned,” King said.

They’re particularly concerned living in Missouri, where 71 percent of voters ratified a marriage equality ban in 2004. Same-sex marriages performed outside the state weren’t recognized until a 2014 lawsuit.

Politically, Jameson described the state as “deeply red with a couple of blue outposts.”“I have no doubt that if Obergefell gets overturned, Missouri will 100 percent take that and run with it,” Jameson said. “We’re not Vermont, we’re not New York, we’re not California.”

According to a poll last week from the Public Religion Research Institute, 70 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, the highest percentage ever recorded by a national survey. Just 28 percent of respondents opposed gay couples’ right to wed, researchers found. But many are reluctant to take that support for granted.

Image: Jon Barrett and Sean Moran (Courtesy Jon Barrett)
Image: Jon Barrett and Sean Moran (Courtesy Jon Barrett)

New York resident Jon Barrett (no relation to the newest justice) said his decision to marry his boyfriend of over 20 years next weekend was absolutely fueled by concern about the high court.

“Common sense says if something happened, New York would still honor” same-sex marriage, he told NBC News. “But I could never have imagined everything that’s happened in the last four years, so I can’t assume I know what the next four years will bring.”

Jon Barrett, 51, is the former editor-in-chief of the gay magazine The Advocate and collaborated on LGBTQ activist Evan Wolfson's 2005 book “Why Marriage Matters.” Still, he didn’t feel an urgency to get married himself before now.

“It was never something we wanted to do this quickly, that’s for sure,” he said. “Now I’m racing to do it before the election, so people will still be happy at the ceremony.”

He and his fiancé, Sean Moran, will tie the knot on Zoom, with friends and loved ones logging on from home.

Justice Barrett’s arrival isn’t marriage advocates’ only concern about the Supreme Court: Earlier this month, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito criticized the Obergefell decision as “choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment.”

In a review of a case brought by former Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Thomas wrote that the landmark decision continued to have “ruinous consequences” for religious freedom.

And Barrett joins the court just in time to hear oral arguments next week in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case that looks at whether faith-based child welfare agencies can refuse to work with same-sex couples and others whom they consider to be in violation of their religious beliefs.

‘Chipping away at our rights’

When “Mindy Project” star Fortune Feimster married her partner, Jacquelyn Smith, last week in Malibu, California, she said the current political climate was a factor."It definitely got the ball rolling for us a lot faster,” she told People magazine. “I mean, we were going to get married no matter what, but we just were like, 'Why wait?' We've been engaged for like two-and-a-half years. You just don't know what will happen when the tide shifts so significantly with the Supreme Court. You hope that they listen to the country."

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, technology journalist Kara Swisher called Thomas and Alito’s comments about Obergefell “a warning shot” in a war many thought long over.

Image: Kara Swish (Courtesy Vox Media)
Image: Kara Swish (Courtesy Vox Media)

Swisher, host of the Vox podcast “Pivot,” got married this month in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The Supreme Court shakeup wasn’t a consideration, she insisted, but she said she could understand why it would be for others.

“I don't think it’s at risk tomorrow or the next day, but they’re trying everything. They’re chipping away at our rights,” Swisher said. “It’s very clear what the 14th Amendment says [about equal protection], but I don't assume any good faith from these people.”

A reversal wouldn’t be without precedent: Same-sex marriage was first recognized across California in June 2008, following a ruling by the state Supreme Court. Just five months later, voter-approved Proposition 8 determined that “only marriage between a man and a woman” would be recognized. Existing unions remained valid, but same-sex couples could no longer apply for marriage licenses. That window stayed shut for five years, until the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry overturned Proposition 8.

Jon Barrett was at San Francisco City Hall in 2008, when then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom officiated at the marriage of longtime lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.

“I’ve never been to a happier place,” he recalled. When Proposition 8 passed, he said, it tinged what should otherwise have been a joyous night — the election of Barack Obama — with sadness.

More than a decade later, as questions are once more raised about the future of gay marriage, he said he’s not necessarily fearful.

“But I have more of a sense than I might otherwise of what it’d be like for it to be taken away.”

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