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LGBTQ advocate Jim Obergefell fears other rights are at risk with Roe overturned


Now that Roe vs. Wade has been overturned, many people are concerned about what other established rights could disappear next. Now, Justice Samuel Alito emphasized the majority opinion that this decision was about abortion specifically. But in a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the legal rational for last week's decision could be applied to reconsider other landmark cases - those that establish rights to same-sex consensual sex, contraception and gay marriage. Jim Obergefell knows this fight well. He was the plaintiff in the 2015 case Obergefell vs. Hodges, which established a right to same-sex marriage across the United States. Jim Obergefell, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JIM OBERGEFELL: Thank you. It's great to be back on. I wish it were under better circumstances.

SUMMERS: Now, the last time we spoke with you, you told us your thoughts on what was then a leaked draft opinion. Now the court has overturned Roe. What was your reaction when the decision was handed down?

OBERGEFELL: Well, you know, my immediate reaction was what a dark day for rights in America, to have the highest court in the land for the first time ever take back a right that it had previously affirmed and to know that women in our nation can now no longer control decisions about their own body because of government overreach, government intrusion. And then to read that concurring opinion by Clarence Thomas just made me even more concerned about the future of civil rights in our nation and especially for the LGBTQ+ community, given the cases that he mentioned, in addition to the continued attacks on women's rights.

SUMMERS: All right. Let's talk about that a little bit. The majority opinion written by Justice Alito, it doesn't stray far from the leaked draft, and it included language that this decision specifically deals with abortion. It doesn't carry on to other rights. And when you were on the show earlier in June, you said that you did not take comfort in that assurance. I want to ask you, do you still feel that way?

OBERGEFELL: Absolutely. Why should we take any comfort in those words in that decision when many of these justices who have now decided to strike down a woman's right to control her own body, during their confirmation hearings, they were either not fully truthful or they lied under oath saying that they considered Roe vs. Wade, the right to an abortion, precedent. I won't believe anything that comes out from this court, at least the extreme majority on this court, for that very reason. There's no reason to believe them. They have proven they cannot be trusted.

SUMMERS: Now, public opinion is firmly in support of same-sex marriage. And support for same-sex marriage is higher today than it was in 2015 when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Does that fact give you any sort of reassurance that there is not an appetite, publicly at least, for overturning this issue?

OBERGEFELL: I wish I could say it did. However, public opinion is on the side of women having the right to an abortion, women having the right to control the decisions made about their body. And yet that certainly did not sway this court. This court is determined to take our nation backward. And now that one right has been lost, other rights are at risk. And this court will continue to drag us down an extreme right-wing path that will take our nation backwards. And that is wrong. This court is supposed to stand for equal justice under law. This court is supposed to stand for affirming or expanding rights, not taking them away.

SUMMERS: So there has been a lot of conversation recently and a lot more since Dobbs was handed down that rights that are protected by the 14th Amendment should be codified by Congress. And I want to ask you, is that something that you and other LGBTQ advocates are preparing to push for?

OBERGEFELL: Without a doubt, Juana. Congress must act. If Congress can't step up and say, these are the rights we believe in, these are the fundamental rights, the human rights, the civil rights that deserve protection, if not from the Supreme Court under law, then what is worth fighting for? So yes, we will absolutely be pushing for Congress to come out in support and to propose legislation that will protect these rights. And if we can't get that at the federal level, well, that's also something we need to be working hard to do at the state level.

SUMMERS: I want to ask you quickly about the chance for reforms passing at the federal level in Congress, where we know the Democrats have slim majorities. They have been unable to pass a number of major legislative priorities. Do you feel confident that you might be able to see some of these protections codified at the federal level?

OBERGEFELL: I want to feel confident. However, given some of the votes that have happened in Congress and knowing that we have been unable to get all Democrats, all members of that caucus, to vote in support of things that the American people support, I sincerely do worry. I can only hope that there are Republicans who do believe in equal justice under law, who do believe in welcoming everyone in this nation as part of we the people, who would step up and do the right thing and support that type of proposal.

SUMMERS: You have been an advocate for some time now. I wonder, what do you say to young people, perhaps even young queer people, who are in this moment feeling discouraged, hopeless, concerned what other rights might be eliminated right now?

OBERGEFELL: I will say this. You have every right to feel discouraged, to feel afraid because honestly, I do as well. But I also reconnected with a friend. Her name is Sarah. She reached out to say, Jim, my son David started to cry in the car this morning. Back when Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court, he was worried about the future. Would he lose the right to marry? And she asked what I would say to him, how I could give him hope. And I say this to David, his mom Sarah and every other young person out there - it's OK to be afraid, but just know that I am out there fighting for the things that are right, the things that are just, the things that matter. And I am far from alone. There are so many people and organizations out there doing the same thing.

But we also need your help. Use your voice. Contact your elected officials. Do everything you can to make sure your voice is heard. And most importantly, vote because the only way our government and our judiciary will reflect us as a nation is if we all vote and we elect the people who share our values, we elect the people who believe in equal justice under law and we the people, for everyone, not just the few. So vote in every single election as soon as you are able. But just know there are so many people out there who are fighting this important fight, and we will not stop because we owe it to the future generations to do everything we can to make it a better world for them.

SUMMERS: That's Jim Obergefell. He was the plaintiff in the landmark case Obergefell vs. Hodges that established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Thanks for being with us today.

OBERGEFELL: Thank you, Juana - glad to be on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.