Hours after the Supreme Court released its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, President Joe Biden singled out Justice Clarence Thomas for setting the country on “an extreme and dangerous path” that could lead to more landmark cases being toppled, including the 2015 ruling that recognizes same-sex marriage.
“He explicitly called to reconsider the right of marriage equality, the right of couples to make their choices on contraception,” Biden said of Thomas’ concurring opinion. Friday’s decision, he said, is “a realization of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the Supreme Court.”
As Kelly Cross watched the events unfold from his home in Old Goucher, he said he felt “great unease,” explaining that his husband, Mateusz Rozanski, who is originally from Poland, was in danger of being deported prior to the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriage.
“I’m not only in a same-sex relationship, but I’m here in a same-sex relationship because the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act,” Cross said. “That’s why our marriage is valid.”
Many in the Baltimore area’s LGBTQ community voiced similar concerns after the high court, in a 6-3 ruling Friday, overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision providing constitutional protections for abortion. Viewed by many as unimaginable two decades ago, the ruling culminated years of efforts by conservatives to secure appointments for justices who would overturn the decision.
Many believe Thomas’ concurring opinion — which suggested that three other major Supreme Court rulings should be reconsidered — foreshadows future attacks on LGBTQ rights.
Cross, a 42-year-old development consultant who graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2005, certainly thought so.
“Where the hell is he [Clarence Thomas] coming from with this?” Cross asked shortly after reading Thomas’ opinion. “This is the opening salvo to the attack on everybody’s rights.”
Thomas, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush, was narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1991 following contentious hearings that focused on sexual harassment accusations against him, which he denied. Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time.
Thomas’ concurring opinion will herald a new age of tumult and controversy for constitutionally protected rights to same-sex marriage, same-sex consensual relationships and access to contraceptives, predicted Joanne Rosen, senior lecturer at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-director for the Center for Law and the Public’s Health.
“This is the beginning of what I believe is much more debate and litigation,” Rosen said.
Although Thomas’ remarks are not legally binding precedents, he is essentially extending an invitation to those who disagree with those rights to challenge them in court, she said.
“It could invite or even incentivize states that disagree with those other constitutional protections that are anchored in substantive due process to roll up their sleeves and get to work reversing them in subsequent cases,” Rosen said.
Rosen doesn’t believe the current Supreme Court has a majority of justices that would consider overturning the right to same-sex marriage.
However, in the “unlikely event” that does happen, Rosen said, “they would be returning [the] matter of same-sex marriage decisions to the states, just as they did now with regulation of abortion.”
Maryland was one of the first states in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, by popular vote in 2012.
Cleo Manago, CEO of Pride Center of Maryland, said he was not surprised by the actions of Thomas, an African American whom Manago contends has traditionally been hostile to the interests of Black Americans.
“This is to be expected,” Manago said.
Manago warned the political left to remain “focused” and “vigilant” in making sure that they get “people in place” — especially on the Supreme Court — so that they can reverse these actions.
“We cannot be paralyzed and emotional about this,” he said. “You don’t have to be in the streets hollering when you have a plan.”
In addition to overturning of Roe, which he called “a devastating blow to women’s rights around the nation,” Federal Hill attorney Chris Franzoni called Thomas’ words “an imminent threat to other basic human and constitutionally protected rights — including that of same-sex marriage and LGBTQIA+ rights.”
Franzoni, who has been partnered with Stanford Kimmel for 14 years, added that the LGBTQ community still lacks “many” fundamental and basic rights, including housing, health, and employment protections.
“Our rights are under attack, and we must stay vigilant to advance and protect them,” said Franzoni. He said it was ironic that Thomas did not mention Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage. Thomas’ wife Ginni is white.
Dana Blech, a 32-year-old queer LGBTQ-rights lawyer who lives in Pigtown, said that this was one of her fears when Trump was elected president in 2016.
“This is what everybody said was going to happen,” said Blech, who has been with her girlfriend for the past two years. “They [conservative court judges] are just knocking them off one at a time with their lifetime appointments. It was going to happen. We did this. People who decided not to vote. Frustration and sadness are my initial feelings.”
Blech said Thomas’ words might move up her timetable to get married.
“It makes me feel like I should get the engagement ring I ordered expedited. It makes me feel like I need to get married tomorrow,” she said.
Blair Dottin-Haley was lying in bed with his husband, Brandon, when news of the Supreme Court’s decision broke Friday morning. They were visiting New York City Pride, having just celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary two weeks ago, and anticipated a weekend of relaxation and love. It turned to disappointment and outrage.
Seeing Thomas’ call to overturn the right to same-sex marriage felt like a challenge to their worth and their right to exist, they said.
“As Black queer men ... it’s hard to see a Black person, who took over Thurgood Marshall’s seat, participate in dismantling and the removal of rights for other people,” Brandon said.
Blair and Brandon attended the same Pride celebration in 2015, the year the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage. It was complicated back then, too, Brandon said.
“It felt great, and in a lot of ways like a slap in the face,” he said. “It was a disappointing acknowledgement, the fact we’re having this conversation at all.”
Friday’s decision was further confirmation that the country was built on and continues to operate with “willful, deliberate oppression,” Blair said.