Janene Oleaga, Esq.
Why Queer Couples Are Rushing To Get Married Right Now
by Emma Banks for Refinery29
April and Aly had a wedding planned for March 2023. But then, things got complicated.
The wedding was supposed to be the culmination of a partnership years in the making: a big ceremony, then an even bigger party, everyone basking in the early spring sunshine of Sanford, Florida. April and Aly MacKenzie had known each other for 18 years, and been dating for six. It was the easiest choice in the world to make—a no-brainer.
But then, on June 24, Roe v. Wade was overturned, and in an instant, millions of people across the country lost their right to a legal abortion. Trigger laws—meaning laws that are poised to go into effect the moment a change occurs—passed in 13 states and for Kentucky, Louisiana and South Dakota, this meant that abortion was effectively outlawed overnight. But the Supreme Court didn’t stop there. Justice Clarence Thomas, by far one of the most conservative justices and who voted to overturn, made clear his desire to reconsider other landmark civil rights cases. Suddenly, Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, and Lawrence v. Texas, which protects same-sex intimacy, no longer felt set in stone. Aly didn’t hesitate.
“My immediate thought afterwards was: they're coming for everything. I turned to April and I said, ‘we’ve got to get married. And we’ve got to get married now.’”
The pair tied the knot on Sept. 2 at the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, Florida, in the company of close family and friends.
“Looking back now you can only have so many of those conversations where you're surprised that something happened that you never thought would happen,” April says. “Until finally you're just like, Okay, maybe we should see it as kind of a warning or a sign and do something about it.”
April and Aly say they aren’t the only queer folks in their community scrambling to make sense of what the future might hold post-Roe. The end of the federally protected right to an abortion in the United States prompted a new, much broader question: Are any of the civil rights won through Supreme Court rulings actually guaranteed?
Parental rights for LGBTQ couples, for example, are a worrisome gray area because they vary widely from state to state, says Maine-based family formation lawyer Janene Oleaga. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, 114,000 same-sex couples are raising children in the US, and overall, those couples are seven times more likely to be raising an adopted or foster child. What’s more, 25 states still have both a constitutional amendment and a statute banning same-sex marriage on the books, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Now, parents are bringing their concerns to Oleaga, asking: What happens to my kid if our marriage is no longer recognized by the state?
“I’ve certainly gotten an increase in calls, mostly about same-sex couples worrying about protecting their parental rights,” Oleaga says. “It is really scary that your rights can potentially change just crossing over from one state to the next. But going through second parent or stepparent adoption proceedings in a state with LGBTQ-friendly laws would make it very, very difficult for another state to refuse to acknowledge your parental rights. So that’s why so many people are seeking that now.”
In July, one month after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act with a bipartisan majority of 267-157. The proposed bill would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (which prevented same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits), recognizing and protecting both same-sex marriage and interracial marriage. However, it’s becoming less and less clear whether or not it will pass the Senate. The vote has been delayed until after the midterms, and Senator Ted Cruz, for example, has already announced he will not support it in the name of religious liberties. It’s exactly the kind of uncertainty that led LGBTQ activist Kollyn Conrad to start his virtual resource center Publicly Private. Now, his question is simple: Why wait? “As much as I want to preach ‘let’s all not panic’, I think we should be preaching ‘let’s make sure we have our legalities in line.’”
In modern society, marriage is not just a symbolic or spiritual rite of passage for couples – it legitimizes a relationship in the eyes of the law. The ability to file your taxes together, share health insurance, visit each other in the hospital and receive inheritance benefits all hinge on being legally married. Losing access to these rights would destabilize the lives of thousands of couples and families, at a time when the queer community is already under attack in dozens of state legislatures across the country.
Of course, April and Aly’s nuptials aren’t only about these rights, but it’s undeniably a part of every person’s decision to tie the knot – especially when those rights are at risk of disappearing.
“This is an incredibly important time in our history,” Aly says. “I'm not worried about us as much as I am about everybody else, because I know that we'll be okay. I didn't want to get married this way at this time, but we will. And we'll be okay.”
“And it’ll still be fantastic,” April adds. “First and foremost.”