Kaylee Sheppard

Kaylee Sheppard

Usually I stick to women’s issues in “Our Day,” but today I will be covering something a little bit more universally concerning. 

On Monday Oct. 5, the Supreme Court started its new session. Even one day in, the Supreme Court is making interesting jabs at one of the most sweeping decisions in modern history: Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). 

If you are not familiar, Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) was the Supreme Court case that made gay marriage legal all across America. This ruling was a massive victory for the LGBTQ community.

Now, 5 years later, the court is flirting with the idea of relooking at the case. Justice Clarence Thomas, also joined by Justice Samuel Alito, called on the religious liberty implications of the Supreme Court's 2015 decision that cleared the way for same-sex marriage nationwide.

Thomas wrote that the ruling, "enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss."

Thomas's strong opinion reflects the fact that critics of the landmark case from five years ago that was penned by now-retired Justice Kennedy are still infuriated by it. They believe the court should have left the decision to the political arena and have long said that it will infringe upon the rights of those who have religious objections to same-sex marriage.

While I agree that I wish congress and state governments had made gay marriage legal before it had to be put in front of the Supreme Court, I do not agree with this view of the ruling. While I am no legal scholar yet, I think this depiction of “religious persecution” is a bit dramatic. If you don’t like gay marriage, maybe don’t become a court clerk that has to administer marriage licenses. It’s really that simple. It is much easier to choose a different career path than determine who you love. 

The Supreme Court even ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake to celebrate the marriage of a same sex couple because of a religious objection. So the only career path I really see affected is for public administrators who are tasked with administering marriage licenses.

The real point that I want to make about this ruling is more general, as many rights Americans enjoy today are not guaranteed. I’m not talking about thinks like freedom of speech or assembly. What I am referring to is what is “included” in the Constitution with modern court rulings at all levels, not just the Supreme Court. 

A very obvious example of this is seen in Roe v. Wade (1973). There are no federal laws guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion. If the Supreme Court decided to overturn that ruling this session (which could happen, especially with Amy Coney Barret’s nomination), some 30 states would instantly, if not by their next legislative session, ban abortion in their state. 

This is also true for Obergefell (2015). If the court overturned it, many states could strip their LGBTQ+ citizens’ rights afforded by married persons such as advantages in adoption, financial links and privileges to visit their partner in the hospital. This just scratches the surface of rights afforded to citizens in the modern era solely on court ruling. 

Another general example is women’s’ equal protection under the law. The Constitution did not intend for women to share equal rights with men in America. It was only in the 1970’s when this started being considered a part of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

While laws can be overturned as well, they must be overturned by multiple bodies of government who have to answer to the people. Courts on the other hand can overturn rulings with very few people having to be on board and do not have to answer to the public due to lifetime appointments. We must pressure our lawmakers to enshrine these rights into law as well as appoint judges who respect these rights.

Kaylee Sheppard is a senior majoring in American Studies and Political Science. She can be reached atksheppa7@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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