Recent U.S Supreme Court confirmation pushes LGBTQ+ community into action
Since Barrett’s confirmation on October 26, LGBTQ+ couples like Kolp and Velasquez have been scrambling to tie the knot. In Kalamazoo, LGBTQ+ organizations, activists, and allies have gotten to work helping everyone use the rights they have now, in case they are brought into question. Read the full story to learn more.
Tess Kolp and Emma Velasquez admit that most of their relationship has taken place out of order. They started dating after they met on Tinder in 2018; one and a half years later, they owned a house and a dog together. On Oct. 27, their two-year anniversary, Tess Kolp and Emma Velasquez said their “I dos” on a front porch with only two witnesses, the officiant and a photographer.
“Our parents haven’t even met yet,” Velasquez said.
Kolp and Velasquez had known for a while that marriage was in their future. However, concrete wedding plans only started to take shape after the media became overrun with news of Ruth Bader Ginsberg's death and the impending confirmation of conservative justice, Amy Coney Barrett, to the U.S Supreme Court.
Since Barrett’s confirmation on October 26, LGBTQ+ couples like Kolp and Velasquez have been scrambling to tie the knot. In Kalamazoo, LGBTQ+ organizations, activists, and allies have gotten to work helping everyone use the rights they have now, in case they are brought into question.
Newly-wed couple, Tess Kolp and Emma Velasquez
Same sex marriage has been legal in all 50 states since June 26, 2015. The supreme court legalized gay marriage in the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges. The decision was 5-4. Justices in the majority ruled that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
For Kolp and Velasquez, making their marriage legal was important. Rights and privileges that go to a married partner simply don’t exist for an unmarried couple, they say. This is especially important for couples like Kolp and Velasquez, who own property and a dog together.
“It’s all the little things that come with the piece of paper,” Kolp said.
Five years have passed since that landmark case. Fifty-eight percent of same-sex couple households reported being married in 2019, out of 980,000 total in the United States. Many have gotten married since the ruling passed, but members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community worry the ability to marry might soon be off the table.
“I didn’t think I’d ever have to worry about some of these things again,” Kolp said.
Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito and Clarence Thomas issued a statement in early October against Obergefell v. Hodges. Both justices believe that the ruling conflicts with protections of religious freedom guaranteed by the 1st Amendment. Alito and Thomas said that Obergefell chooses to support "a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and by doing so undemocratically, the court has created a problem that only it can fix."
With Barrett filling the spot that once belonged to the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the U.S Supreme court has swung drastically to the right-side of the political spectrum. The current supreme court is made-up of three liberal and six conservative justices, three of which were appointed by President Trump during his term.
Considering the new make-up of the supreme court, it is unsurprising that the LGBTQ+ community has burst into action. Marshall Kilgore, director of advocacy for Out Front Kalamazoo, said the organization has been in a mad dash to get people married or help people with name changes.
“As soon as we knew that she was confirmed, our community jumped on making sure that people in the LGBTQ+ community had what they needed,” Kilgore said.
Outfront has already received community support since the confirmation from their Faith Alliance: a gathering of faith community leaders serving as allies.
Julia Music, officiant of Kolp and Velasquez’s wedding and executive director of Ferndale Pride, has been offering free weddings on her front porch. Along with inquiries about wedding ceremonies, Music has been contacted by individuals about second-parent adoption, fearing this is another right that could be taken away.
Barrett’s confirmation also has women worried by her disagreement with Roe v. Wade, and members of the BIPOC community worried by her alleged statements claiming that the n-word doesn't create a hostile work environment. Kilgore worries what her views will mean for the rights of marginalized communities in the future.
“Her track record is dangerous for our community, and I hope she will be able to start a new course in her judgments and rulings in the near future,” Kilgore said. “This lifetime appointment is crucial to our democracy, and it needs to be taken seriously. We are facing a possible attack and roll back on rights within our community, and this is not about politics; folks lives are at stake.”
Arguments for Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Barrett’s first case in court, began on Nov. 4. The case reviews a Roman Catholic adoption agency’s right to discriminate against potential foster parents on the basis of sexual orientation. The conservative-majority court is predicted to rule in favor of the adoption agency, but final rulings aren’t expected until June of 2021.
Activists worry that the outcome of this ruling could poke holes in United States anti-discrimination laws, allowing anyone to use religious beliefs as an excuse not to treat LGBTQ folks with the same dignity and respect as everyone else.
Understandably, newlyweds Kolp and Velasquez feel frustrated in the face of these steps backward in progress.
“When they’re called rights,” Velasquez said, “It implies that someone can’t argue them away.”
Despite the mounting obstacles to equal rights and protections under the law, Kilgore urges people not to lose hope.
“Being a black, bisexual male; this world was build on me, but it was not built for me,” Kilgore said. “If I go around and I’m not optimistic, and I don't have hope for my leaders, then I would be hopeless. That is the last thing our organization wants our community to be, is hopeless.”
Tess Kelp and Emma Velasquez were able to quickly throw together their wedding; it took place during a pandemic, was catered by Dominoes and their families were unable to attend. Nevertheless, it ended with them being able to call each other wife and wife. The future is still unclear, and the rights of LGBTQ+ couples are less certain than they were only a few months ago. So, what do we hope for? According to Kilgore, we hope for change; a change in the mindset of our political leaders, like Amy Coney Barrett.
“I hope she studies up,” Kilgore said. “I hope she starts talking to people of different races and sexual orientations and who love and who pray and who worship differently then her. I hope that for her, and I want to hold her accountable for that, because my community depends on it.”