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Could Roe decision affect same-sex marriage? Florida LGBTQ leaders, Pride goers fear yes.

Justice Clarence Thomas stirs concern with an opinion that discusses related cases.
People gather in Lafayette Park to see the White House illuminated with rainbow colors after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015.
People gather in Lafayette Park to see the White House illuminated with rainbow colors after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015. [ PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS | AP ]
Published Jun. 24|Updated Jun. 25

Friday morning, Americans tried to digest what the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could mean for the future of abortion and pregnancy.

Amid that, LGBTQ leaders were also alarmed by Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion, in which he called for the court to reconsider similar precedents involving due process. That included the landmark 2015 Obergefell case that found same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.

In addition to Obergefell, Thomas pointed to Lawrence v. Texas, which forbade states from passing and enforcing laws that criminalized consensual sexual acts between same-sex couples.

Though the court’s opinion on Roe stated “unequivocally” that it should not be understood to cast doubt on other precedents, Thomas’ opinion created deep concern among LGBTQ organizations and leaders statewide who feared that rights previously granted to them by the court could be eroded.

“The same logic that’s being used to control people’s bodies and medical decisions is at risk of being used to turn back the clock on LGBTQ equality,” said Brandon Wolf, a spokesperson for Equality Florida. “Our fight against extremism is more critical than ever.”

The timing of the decision coincides with St. Petersburg’s annual Pride concert and parade, which typically brings thousands of people out to celebrate. This weekend marks its 20th anniversary.

On Friday evening, as people adorned in rainbow gathered near Spa Beach for a concert featuring Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, the mood was mixed.

Protesters march and chant during the SCOTUS Decision Day Protest on Friday, June 24, 2022, at North Straub Park in St. Petersburg.
Protesters march and chant during the SCOTUS Decision Day Protest on Friday, June 24, 2022, at North Straub Park in St. Petersburg. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

“It’s a party, but it’s also a protest,” said 34-year-old Chelsey Hiehle.

Hiehle, who came out as a lesbian when she was 14, said she’s seen the arc of progress and regression over the last 20 years. Coming out in the early 2000s, at a time when LGBTQ+ rights were limited, was challenging. When the court ruled to protect marriage equality in 2015, it felt like a huge victory — one long overdue.

She said the idea of slipping backward is infuriating.

“We’re scared. We’re rallying to prepare for the future,” Hiehle said. “Today’s decision makes me more driven to fight for women’s rights and the rights of all people.”

Across the water, at North Straub Park, a rally in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn abortion rights was underway.

A crowd of several hundred gathered under the trees, switching on and off between chants of “My body, my choice” and “This is what democracy looks like.”

Kira Luber, 25, and Ashley Pace, 23, stood holding each other.

The couple, who have been together for two years, were downtown for the Pride concert when they stumbled upon the rally and decided to join. They said they had been switching off between giggles and tears.

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“It’s been a really weird day. It’s been half amazing and half super, super scary,” said Pace. “About 20 minutes ago we had the conversation of ‘do we need to get married because it’s an emergency?’”

Luber, who is trans, said she worries for her rights more generally. Recent legislation restricting the rights of trans people adds to her fears.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” Luber said. “It seems like the Supreme Court is gung-ho for getting rid of everything.”

Shoes and tutus seen during St. Pete Pride's Family Day at North Straub Park on Saturday, June 18, 2022 in St. Petersburg.
Shoes and tutus seen during St. Pete Pride's Family Day at North Straub Park on Saturday, June 18, 2022 in St. Petersburg. [ LAUREN WITTE | Times ]

That protests were taking place during Pride holds historical relevance. The legacy of Pride is rooted in protest.

“The first Pride was a riot,” said Tiffany Freisberg, the president of St. Pete Pride.

She said the court’s decision calls into question rights that have been taken for granted.

“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been using it more as a celebration recently. I think there’s going to be a renewed sense of importance, of significance to why we’re gathering,” Freisberg said.

Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, said the country is in a “stonewall moment,” where the government is challenging LGBTQ identities. Rayner, who is queer, has repeatedly filed a bill to eliminate a portion of the state statutes that says marriage between a same-sex couple is not recognized.

Rayner said she’s been told by legislative leaders that the bill isn’t necessary because it’s been codified by the Supreme Court. She keeps trying, however, and said she plans to continue to file the bill if she wins reelection to her House seat.

“Everything that we have thought to be true is now under attack,” Rayner said.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, the first lesbian mayor of a major city in the Southeast, said ”I think that everyone has a role to play and a responsibility — from everyday individuals to political figures in the community — to stand up to have their voices heard and to ensure that there isn’t an erosion of their human rights and civil rights.”

Lawmakers spoke out beyond Tampa Bay, too.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, who is gay, said abortion access and LGBTQ rights are tied together with common legal underpinnings.

“They’re common causes because for generations the religious right has tried to impose its definition of family of sexuality and marriage onto others,” Smith said. “That has impacted abortion rights as well as LGBTQ rights.”

Smith said the Friday ruling is a reminder that the rights of LGBTQ Americans are not guaranteed, and that people have to fight to defend them by organizing and voting.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, who is gay, reacted to the news in a Tweet, saying “This is only the beginning! This will be the fight of our time, and we can’t play with it.”

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