Same-sex couples update their legal status after abortion ruling


FILE – A reveler carries an LTBGQ flag along Fifth Avenue during the New York Pride Parade on Sunday, June 24, 2018 in New York City. Parades celebrating LGBTQ pride kick off in some of America’s biggest cities on Sunday amid renewed fears about the potential erosion of freedoms won over decades of activism. The annual marches in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and elsewhere come just two days after a conservative Supreme Court justice signaled in an abortion ruling that the court should reconsider recognized same-sex marriage rights in 2015. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki, File)


Emails and phone calls from same-sex couples worried about the legal status of their marriages and the custody of their children flooded the office of attorney Sydney Duncan hours after the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion.

Last week’s ruling did not directly affect the 2015 ruling that paved the way for same-sex marriage. But, Duncan said, it was still a wake-up call for families headed by same-sex parents who fear their rights will evaporate like those of people seeking to end a pregnancy.

“It scares a lot of people and I think rightly so,” said Duncan, who specializes in representing members of the LGBTQ community at Magic City Legal Center in Birmingham.

Overturning nearly 50-year-old precedent, the Supreme Court ruled in a Mississippi case that abortion was not constitutionally protected, a decision likely to lead to bans in about half of the states. Judge Samuel Alito said the decision related only to the medical procedure, writing, “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as casting doubt on precedents which do not relate to abortion.”

But Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas called on his colleagues to reconsider cases allowing same-sex marriage, same-sex sexual relations and contraception.

The three most liberal members of the court warn in their dissent that the decision could be used to challenge other individual freedoms: “Either the mass of majority opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are threatened . It’s one or the other. »

This prospect worries some LGBTQ couples, who worry about a return to a time when they did not have the same rights as married heterosexual couples under the law. Many, fearing their marital status is in jeopardy, are now looking to potential medical, parental and estate issues.

Dawn Betts-Green and his wife Anna Green wasted no time in documenting their legal documents after the ruling. They have already visited a legal clinic for same-sex families to begin the process of writing a will.

“That way, if they take us back to the Dark Ages again, we have legal protections for our relationship,” said Betts-Green, who works with an Alabama-based nonprofit that documents the history of LGBTQ people in the South.

As a white woman married to a black transgender man, Robbin Reed of Minneapolis feels especially vulnerable. A decision undermining same-sex marriage or interracial unions would completely upend Reed’s life, which includes the couple’s 3-month-old child.

“I don’t expect anything about my marriage to be safe,” said Reed, a paralegal.

Reed’s employer, Sarah Breiner of the law firm Breiner, conducts seminars in the Twin Cities and the Atlanta area to help same-sex couples deal with potential legal needs after the court ruling. Breiner said helping people stay calm about the future is part of his job these days.

“We don’t know what could happen, and that’s the problem,” Breiner said.

In a sign of what could happen, the state of Alabama has already cited the abortion ruling asking a federal appeals court to let it enforce a new state law that makes it a crime for women. doctors to prescribe puberty blockers and hormones to underage trans people. 19. The decision giving states the power to restrict abortion means states should also be able to ban medical treatment for transgender youth, the state asserted.

Any attempt to nullify gay marriage would start with a trial, and any possible rollback is years away since no major legal threats are on the horizon, said Cathryn Oakley, senior attorney and legislative director of the State of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ. advocacy organization.

“It’s definitely a scary time and people are nervous, but people’s marriages are always safe,” Oakley said.

While the threat to same-sex couples is particularly acute in conservative states, Oakley said she’s heard of people across the country in recent days seeking second-parent adoptions, who protect a family by pointing out the names of both adoptive parents on the birth certificate. . People are also filling out medical directives in case one spouse becomes incapacitated and doing general estate planning, she said.

The law firm of Ryanne Seyba in Hollywood, Florida, offers free second parent adoptions, which are similar to stepparent adoptions, for qualified same-sex couples to help ease some of the stress caused by the possible ripple effects of the abortion decision.

“We realized last week when (the ruling) came out that we had to do something,” said Seyba of The Upgrade Lawyers.

A Broward County judge plans to have a special day in August to finalize all adoptions at the same time, Seyba said. At least completing the process should give nervous families more security, she said.

“If same-sex marriage disappears, we don’t really know what will happen,” she said. “It’s better to be on the safe side.”


Associated Press writer Kim Chandler at Montgomery contributed to this report.

Lynn A. Saleh