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With Roe overturned, LGBTQ activists worry same-sex marriage is next

Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the <em>Obergefell v. Hodges</em> Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage, stands at the Texas Capitol during a rally on June 29, 2015.
Eric Gay
Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage, stands at the Texas Capitol during a rally on June 29, 2015.

Updated June 24, 2022 at 12:30 PM ET

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. It was a historic ruling that signified a turning point for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.

Fast-forward seven years, and a lot has changed. The Supreme Court is vastly different, and has just overturned Roe v. Wade, which could have implications for other rights, including the right to same-sex marriage.

Civil rights activist Jim Obergefell was the lead plaintiff in the 2015 case, and he joined All Things Considered after the initial leak of the opinion but before the official release, to share his perspective on the uncertain future and how his case is more closely tied to Roe v. Wade than you might think.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Interview highlights

On the story behind his original lawsuit

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in their decision in The United States v. Windsor. I proposed to my partner John, and he was dying of ALS. We were in our 20th year together as a couple. We ended up marrying inside a medical jet in Maryland, and we lived in Ohio. When we learned that John's death certificate would be filled out incorrectly when he died, saying he was single, we decided to sue the state of Ohio and the city of Cincinnati to demand recognition of our lawful out-of-state marriage on John's death certificate at the time he died. That's the case that took me all the way to the Supreme Court.

On the link between the ruling on abortion and the future of same-sex marriage

My concern in this leaked decision, and why I'm worried about marriage equality is the language in this decision, which says "unenumerated rights." [These are] the rights that we enjoy as Americans that are not specifically written out word for word in the Constitution: the right to privacy, the right to marry. This leaked decision says, well, if those unenumerated rights will continue as what we consider fundamental rights, then they have to be based in our nation's history and tradition. That's a very dangerous thing, because marriage equality is only seven years old, not even seven years old. That is not a long history. It's certainly not the tradition of our nation. So, that language, talking about unenumerated rights being based in history and tradition, that concerns me.

On the reaction within the LGBTQ+ community

There is definitely widespread fear. But it's also one of those things where I consider my job right now to help educate people, to help them understand why they should be concerned, why they should be afraid and why they shouldn't just think, "Well, that that really isn't going to happen." It could happen, and people need to believe that it could happen. So, there's fear, but people are also thinking, "Well, what can we do?" And what we can do is get involved at the state level. We're really going to have to rely on states to confirm and to protect, to affirm some of these rights that are at risk with the Supreme Court. I think most of us, a lot of us in the community, we're looking at this from the state level, realizing just how important that it always has been, and how important that will be, or could be going forward.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.