Codify Gay Marriage Now to Thwart Clarence Thomas: Jim Obergefell

With the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade being perceived as a possible threat to other recently obtained rights, including same-sex marriage and contraception, LGTBQ+ advocate Jim Obergefell says it is time to codify the right to gay marriage into state law.

Since he became the plaintiff in the case that established same-sex couples have the same fundamental right to marry as opposite-sex couples in 2015, Obergefell has become a beacon of hope and strength for the LGBTQ+ community, for which he's a relentless advocate.

When he brought forward the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 to attempt to have his and his late husband John Arthur's Maryland wedding recognized by a court in Ohio, Obergefell says it was "a very easy decision."

Now he's certain it was also the right decision to give people "the ability to commit to the person you love and to have that relationship, that marriage recognized by your state, by your country."

Jim Obergefell
Jim Obergefell, plaintiff in the landmark case that ruled in favor of recognizing the right to same-sex marriage, is worried LGBTQ+ rights could be at risk after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In this photo, Obergefell speaks during a rally urging the U.S. Senate to hold a confirmation vote for Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland outside of The Supreme Court of the United States on October 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson/Getty Images

However, he's worried that this fundamental right is in danger, after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade on the basis that it's not rooted in the U.S. Constitution.

"I'm devastated for women, for people who get pregnant. For all of us in our nation who have enjoyed and expect to enjoy the right to make decisions about our own bodies, that's a terrifying thing for the highest court in the land to take away," Obergefell tells Newsweek.

"Now, going forward with this Dobbs decision, I am concerned about what that means for LGBTQ+ rights," he says.

"You know, the concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, he clearly paints a target on a woman's right to birth control and on same-sex couples, right to intimate relations in the privacy of their own home and on our right to marriage equality. So, opponents of LGBTQ+ equality, opponents of marriage equality and birth control will use that language to launch challenges to those rights," Obergefell adds.

According to Obergefell, who's now running for the Ohio House of Representative, there have been threats to the 2015 landmark ruling since it was established—but now the threat is a little more evident.

"We have the right to get marriage licenses. We have the right to get married, and we have the right to have our states recognize those marriages.

"But, we don't enjoy marriage equality. We have clerks of court who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"There are judges and magistrates across the country who have stopped officiating all weddings because they don't want to officiate for a same-sex couple. We have businesses open to the public—bakers, photographers and more—who refuse to work with same-sex couples, even though they are open to the public and are supposed to serve everyone.

"So we actually haven't had marriage equality and we've been undergoing those attacks since the decision."

The 55-year-old advocate is not the only one who's concerned that Obergefell and other landmark cases could be overturned after Roe, despite the fact Justice Samuel Alito said last week's decision was about abortion specifically, and no other rights.

In his concurring opinion separate from that of Alito, Thomas, the court's longest-serving justice, wrote that the legal rationale for the decision to overrule Roe v. Wade could be applied to reconsider other recent landmark cases—including those that establish rights to same-sex consensual sex, same-sex marriage and contraception.

"To suddenly tell these hundreds of thousands of couples who have gotten married and formed families since that decision in 2015, that their marriages could potentially no longer be valid, that their families would not be protected," he says.

"And to tell future generations that you do not belong, you are not part of 'We the people.' You as a person, your relationships, your families do not matter. They are worth less than. What a horrendous thing for our nation.

"That flies in the face of everything we claim as a nation to stand for. It flies in the face of what our Constitution promises. Our Constitution starts with 'We, the people.' Women, people who get pregnant, queer people, people of color. We are all part of 'We the people.'"

But, the 55-year-old advocate says it's not time for despair, but time for action. "We have got to act. We must be vocal," he says.

"We have got to demand that Congress propose and pass federal legislation that will protect these rights that we have enjoyed, that we've come to rely on.

"We have to demand that our state legislatures do the same thing, pass legislation that protects these rights at a state level. We know we are at risk in the Supreme Court, but we must do what we can. And that's demanding that our state legislatures and Congress act to protect the rights that a majority of Americans want and believe in."

According to recent polls, support for same-sex marriage has reached a new high of over 70 percent among Americans. But over 60 percent of Americans also supported abortion being legal.

"I will say the thing that gives me a little bit of hope is that all of the other justices in that majority opinion had the ability to add their names to Justice Thomas's concurring opinion," Obergefell says.

"They could have also said, 'We agree that those three decisions—Griswold, Laurence, Obergefell—should be revisited,' but they did not. So as a nation, we have to hold those other justices to account for not joining Justice Thomas's concurring opinion, but our rights are at risk. There is no doubt. Because when one fundamental right, when one right is lost, every other right we enjoy is at risk."