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Thomas, Alito Signal Same-Sex Marriage Rights Could Be Undone

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It was February 12, 2004 in San Francisco when then Mayor Gavin Newsom officiated the country’s first same-sex marriage ceremony, helping legally tie the knot for Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, a couple who’d already been together for 50 years. In the month that followed, the city issued marriage licenses for nearly 4,000 same-sex couples. That momentum came to a screeching halt when the California Supreme Court ordered the city to stop issuing the licenses and nullified the marriages.

It was a long and hard-fought battle from then until June 26, 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, finally declaring that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The four objecting justices wrote individual dissents. Among those were Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito–the two took the opportunity Monday to cast doubt on the security of the 2015 decision.

The opportunity came in the form of case brought by Kim Davis, the former Kentucky county clerk who made news when she refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses after the law was decided. Though SCOTUS declined to consider the Davis case, Thomas wrote for himself and Alito that:

“(Obergefell v. Hodges) enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss.”     

The signal from Thomas comes as the president and Republican senators push to confirm SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett in the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Ginsburg was widely seen as an ally in the LGBTQ community, a position that aligned with her lifelong mission to achieve equality for all in the eyes of the law. RBG famously became the first justice to officiate a same-sex marriage. 

Demonstrators take to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of the landmark 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that secured the right of same-sex couples to legally marry. (Photo by jordanuhl7)

Barrett, on the other hand, signed onto a letter five years ago that publicly affirmed her agreement with the Catholic Church’s beliefs that marriage and family is “founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.” 

Barrett’s Catholic affiliation does not necessarily mean she will rule in adherence to Biblical teachings over what the Constitution would dictate. But Donald Trump’s reelection bid relies heavily on the evangelical vote, and while evangelicals and Catholics are not synonymous–it’s speculated his nomination is an appeal to religious social conservatives who take issue with same-sex marriage and abortion rights. 

Despite holding a SCOTUS seat hostage during President Barack Obama’s last year in office, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to hold Barrett’s confirmation hearing with just weeks left before Election Day. If Barrett is confirmed, the court would be decidedly tipped to conservative majority, which could have dire legal consequences for landmark cases long thought to be settled.        

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.

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