Florida LGBTQ+ advocates worry Supreme Court to remove marriage, adoption rights for same-sex couples
TALLAHASSEE — The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on grounds abortion rights are not in the Constitution has LGBTQ+ advocates and same sex couples in Florida worried that the nation's highest court may eliminate the right to same-sex marriage, among other constitutional rights.
Their fears stem from Associate Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion in the Roe case last month when he called on his fellow justices to "reconsider" other rights.
"In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell," Thomas wrote, referring to landmark opinions that blocked states from banning contraception, sex by same-sex couples and gay marriage. "After overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated."
Thomas's remarks marked a shot across the bow for LGBTQ+ advocates and many same-sex couples, who only in recent years gained marriage equality under federal law. The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in 2015.
Sarah Kate Ells, president and CEO of GLAAD, one of the nation's largest LGBTQ rights organizations called Thomas' comments "a blaring red alert for the LGBTQ community and for all Americans."
"We will never go back to the dark days of being shut out of hospital rooms, left off of death certificates, refused spousal benefits, or any of the other humiliations that took place in the years before Obergefell," she said in reference to the high court's 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage.
She added that Americans "can no longer trust that the Supreme Court is operating in the interests of the majority of Americans."
Adding to fears: many states, including Florida, do not recognize same-sex couples under existing state law. Florida law explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman — regardless of where a couple is married, according to statute.
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While the law limiting marriage to a man and woman remains moot under a separate 2015 Florida court decision, a high court challenge would not directly threaten the status of same-sex couples in Florida. Still, some view the Legislature’s unwillingness to rewrite the law as reason enough to worry.
Even last week's U.S. House vote to approve the "Respect for Marriage Act" — to protect same-sex and interracial marriages — did little to allay concerns because the bill's passage in the Senate remains doubtful. Voting in favor were nearly 50 Republicans, including six from Florida.
Conservative Republicans insist the Supreme Court only focused on abortion access and have argued that same-sex marriage and other rights are not threatened. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, in his majority opinion to undo Roe, wrote "nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion."
Despite the assurances, some gay couples in Florida are already taking steps to protect themselves should same-sex marriage gets reviewed and overturned.
Ryanne Seyba, a South Florida lawyer, began preemptively providing free legal counsel to same sex couples after the Roe decision. She, alongside law partner Meaghan Marro, offer cost free consultations on second-parent adoptions. The duo practice law in Broward County said they are receiving calls daily from concerned same-sex families.
"People are terrified," said Seyba. "I never would have thought that this would be the state that we're in."
Roughly 71% of Americans say they support legal same sex marriage, according to a recent Gallup poll. National support on the issue has continued to rise since 1996, when Gallup's first poll revealed only 37% of the public support for such unions.
Florida is home to roughly 48,500 same-sex couples, according to the UCLA Williams Institute. Of them, 13% are raising children. The state ranks 3rd in the nation with the most same sex couples — preceded only by New York and California.
Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner, of St. Petersburg, an openly gay lawmaker, said Floridians "can't just rest on our laurels... it's very clear that marriage is in peril."
Rayner is among the latest chorus of Democratic lawmakers calling on state leaders to repeal Florida's defunct law prohibiting same-sex marriage. While the Republican-controlled Legislature has yet to budge, other Democratic lawmakers are spotlighting the issue ahead of the upcoming elections.
"As a gay man, I know what it’s like to have the religious right attack my sexual freedoms and push their beliefs onto me and my family," tweeted Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. "The Republican Party of Florida is coming for our rights, and the only way to combat them is by VOTING."