Emails and phone calls from same-sex couples worried about the legal status of their marriages and keeping their children flooded Sydney Duncan’s lawyer’s office within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision eliminating the constitutional right to abortion.
The ruling last week did not directly affect the 2015 decision that paved the way for same-sex marriage. But, Duncan said, it was still a warning shot for families led by same-sex parents who fear their rights could evaporate like those of people who want to end a pregnancy.
“It scared a lot of people, and I think, rightly so,” said Duncan, who specializes in representing members of the LGBTQ community at the Magic City Legal Center in Birmingham.
The Supreme Court overturned a nearly 50-year precedent and ruled in a Mississippi case that abortion is not protected by the Constitution, a decision that is likely to lead to bans in about half of the states. Judge Samuel Alito said the verdict involved only the medical procedure, writing: “Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents not engaging in abortion.”
But Conservative Judge Clarence Thomas called on his colleagues to reconsider cases that allowed same-sex marriage, gay sex and contraception.
The court’s three most liberal members warn in their differences that the ruling can be used to challenge other personal freedoms: “Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are threatened. It is one or the other. ”
That prospect worries some LGBTQ couples, who are worried about a return to a time when they did not have equal rights as married heterosexual couples under the law. Many, who fear that their marital status is at risk, are now moving to take away potential medical, parental and estate issues.
Dawn Betts-Green and wife Anna Green did not waste time supporting their legal paperwork after the decision. They have already visited a legal clinic for families with same-sex parents to begin the process of drafting a will.
“That way, if they blow us back to the Dark Ages, we have legal protection for our relationship,” said Betts-Green, who works with an Alabama-based nonprofit documenting the history of LGBTQ people in the South. .
As a white woman married to a black transgender man, Robbin Reed of Minneapolis feels particularly vulnerable. A decision that undermines same-sex marriage or interracial relationships will completely overturn Reed’s life, which includes the couple’s 3-month-old child.
“I have no expectation that anything is safe to my marriage,” said Reed, an attorney.
Reed’s employer, Sarah Breiner of the Breiner law firm, is setting up seminars in both the Twin Cities and the Atlanta area to help same-sex couples navigate potential legal needs after the court ruling. Breiner said helping people stay calm about the future is part of her job these days.
“We do not know what can happen, and that is the problem,” Breiner said.
In a sign of what may come, the state of Alabama has already quoted the abortion ruling by asking a federal appeals court to allow it to enforce a new state law that makes it an offense for doctors to have puberty blockers and prescribing hormones to transmense under age 19. The decision that gives states the power to restrict abortion means that states must also ban medical treatments for transgender youth, the state argued.
Any attempt to undo same-sex marriage will start with a lawsuit, and any possible rollback is years away as no major legal threat is on the horizon, said Cathryn Oakley, senior attorney and state legislative director of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign. An LGBTQ advocacy organization.
“It’s definitely a scary moment and people are nervous, but people’s marriages are still safe,” Oakley said.
Although the threat to same-sex couples feels particularly acute in conservative states, Oakley said she has heard in recent days from people across the country seeking second-parent adoptions, who protect a family by having the names of both adoptive parents on the birth certificate . People also complete medical prescriptions in case one spouse is incompetent and do general estate planning, she said.
Ryanne Seyba’s law firm in Hollywood, Florida, offers free second-parent adoptions, similar to stepparent adoptions, for qualified same-sex couples to help relieve the stress caused by the possible ripple effects of the abortion decision to relieve.
“We realized last week when (the verdict) we had to do something,” said Seyba of The Upgrade Lawyers.
A judge in Broward County plans to hold a special day in August to finalize all the adoptions at once, Seyba said. If nothing else, completing the process should give nervous families more security, she said.
“If gay marriage disappears, we do not really know what will happen,” she said. “It’s better to be on the safe side.”