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Jim Obergefell, who helped legalize gay marriage, fears other rights are at risk with Roe overturned

Justice Clarence Thomas argued in a concurring opinion released on Friday that the Supreme Court 'should reconsider' three rulings surrounding birth control and gay relationships.

Jim Obergefell, who helped legalize gay marriage, fears other rights are at risk with Roe overturned
Cover Image Source: Jim Obergefell attend The Young Turks Watchdog Correspondents Preamble Party at The Hepburn on April 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for The Young Turks)

The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has given rise to widespread concern that the court will now reconsider rulings that protect other rights, including contraception and same-sex marriages. Among those concerned about the unsettling chain of events is Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. "I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be in the place that I am, having gone to the Supreme Court, having my name on a landmark civil rights case," the 55-year-old told PEOPLE. "But it is. And with that comes visibility; with that comes a voice."


Obergefell is now running for a seat in the Ohio House, something he'd contemplated for years in the aftermath of his history-making Obergefell v. Hodges lawsuit that earned same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. "I do feel an obligation, but it's an obligation of the best sorts," he said, one "to do the right thing, to make the world better," for not just the queer community but all humans. This feeling grew stronger last week when the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that made abortion legal in the U.S. nearly 50 years ago.


Meanwhile, Justice Clarence Thomas argued in a concurring opinion released on Friday that the Supreme Court "should reconsider" Griswold v. Connecticut, Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges—three rulings that currently protect the right to buy and use contraceptives without government restriction, the right to a same-sex relationship and the right to same-sex marriage. He wrote: "... in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court's substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is 'demonstrably erroneous,'... we have a duty to 'correct the error' established in those precedents..."


Addressing Thomas' concurring opinion, Obergefell said: "It just angers me and terrifies me that we have the highest court in the land who wants to harm hundreds of thousands—millions—of people across the country and put marriages in limbo and prevent people from committing legally to the person they love." He also pointed out that Thomas, who is Black and married to a white woman, has personally benefited from the long-established precedent of Loving v. Virginia, the landmark 1967 Supreme Court precedent that legalized interracial marriages. "I would like to say to Justice Thomas: 'If you want to see an error in judgment, look in the mirror.' Hundreds of thousands of couples across this nation do not need him imposing his twisted morality on them," said Obergefell.


Because there is now a danger of the Supreme Court reexamining cases that were decided under the umbrella of the constitutional right to privacy, Obergefell believes it is more important than ever to understand those sacred rights. "The right to privacy, that's something we all deserve as human beings. And it's something that our constitution should keep sacrosanct, but [overturning Roe] takes that away," he said, calling bodily autonomy a "fundamental right" that opens Pandora's box once lost. For same-sex couples, Obergefell added, "that is their private marriage. It doesn't impact anyone else."


"We are at risk of having our intimate relations once again be criminalized," Obergefell warned. "It's fundamental to who we are as a people, having that person that you love, you care for and you make these promises to. To have that taken away... that does irreparable harm to our nation." Obergefell became the face of the marriage equality movement in his pursuit to honor his promise to love, honor and protect his relationship with a man named John Arthur, who died of ALS three months after their 2013 wedding. "I was fighting for the love of my life and for us to exist, for us to matter," he explained, adding that they couldn't stand the thought of Arthur's death certificate showing he died unmarried. "When we lost at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, I could've at that point thrown in the towel and said, 'I want to go back to just being quiet Jim,' but I couldn't because I had to live up to my promises to John."


However, little has changed in how the nation mistreats queer people in the years since Obergefell v. Hodges became precedent. Just this year, lawmakers across the country have drafted legislation targeting drag queens, inclusive education, gender-affirming care, trans athletes and even parents of LGBTQ+ youth. In Obergefell's home state of Ohio, a House bill was passed that permitted internal and external genital inspections on any girl suspected of being transgender. That part of the bill was later removed after facing nationwide backlash. "These decisions, this movement towards government intrusion into our bedrooms, into our doctor's offices, into our schools, everyone should be worried about that," he warned. "Can we all just treat each other as human beings deserving of the same dignity, the same respect, the same rights?"

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