Jim Obergefell says Supreme Court abortion ruling puts target on privacy, gay marriage

Haley BeMiller
Cincinnati Enquirer
Jim Obergefell poses for a portrait on Thursday, June 25, 2020, at Goodale Park in Columbus, Ohio. Obergefell was the plaintiff in the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling to strike down Roe v. Wade could have ripple effects down the road for cases dealing with same-sex marriage and contraception, including one bearing the name of an Ohio gay rights advocate.

The court ruled Friday that there's no constitutional right to abortion access, sending the procedure back to states to regulate. The previous precedent was grounded in the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process, which also serves as the foundation of the landmark gay marriage ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. 

That case was named for lead plaintiff Jim Obergefell, a former Cincinnati resident who is currently running for the Ohio House

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In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday's decision doesn't affect other rights beyond access to abortion. But he suggested the court reconsider Obergefell's precedent in the future, along with cases that overturned sodomy laws and established the right for married people to obtain contraception.

"Because any substantive due process decision is 'demonstrably erroneous,' we have a duty to 'correct the error' established in those precedents," Thomas wrote. "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."

In an interview Friday, Obergefell said the ruling is a call to opponents of marriage equality "to now start their engines and to come after those rights."

"This very clearly paints a target on our right to privacy, our right to commit to the person we love and to form our families," he said.

Obergefell and John Arthur, who was gravely ill, traveled to Maryland in July 2013 to get married because Ohio didn't allow same-sex unions. Arthur died three months later, and Obergefell sued to be listed on the death certificate as Arthur’s husband. Their case was among multiple cases involving dozens of plaintiffs argued before the Supreme Court.

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The 2015 decision establishing the right for same-sex couples to marry was a milestone for LGBTQ rights in the United States. Thomas dissented against the majority opinion.

Obergefell accused Thomas of "imposing his twisted sense of morality" on the country. He said he's scared about what the future may hold but urged women, LGBTQ people and their allies to keep fighting for their rights.

"What a dark day for our ability to control our own bodies, to make decisions about our own bodies," he said. "What a dark day for our right to privacy. What an incredibly dark day for women in our nation." 

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.