The Supreme Court of the United States has continued to make life for LGBT people in in America much better, much to the chagrin of the Christian Right. Many people had taken their eye off the fight for LGBT equality in the United State because of the legalisation of same-sex marriage in June 2015. As a result of this recent decision, a state-ban on same-sex adoption has been deemed unconstitutional and has resulted in the legalisation of adoption by gay couples in all 50 states. Obergefell v.Hodges set a precedent for treating LGBT people as equal and, although much work is still needed to bring about full equality, the direction of travel is good for the equality movement.
Given the current situation with the Supreme Court, in that its number of justices is currently diminished, it was entirely possible that the decision would be a 4-4 stalemate with liberal and conservative justices voting down ideological lines. However the fact that this was not the case illustrates that the Court following Obergefell v. Hodges is maintaining the legal precedent that LGBT people are not second class citizens. The Court’s decision was unanimous.
The case itself was about the nature of visitation rights, the legal authority of different states, and same-sex adoption more broadly. The case was about a lesbian couple who were known by their initials EL and VL. The couple were raising three biological children of EL all of which were conceived before the couple separated in 2011. Because the couple had separated a court in Georgia gave VL parental visitation rights in the same way that a separated father would receive following the breakdown of a heterosexual relationship.
Before I carry on with this story I’d like to point out that this in an of itself is a victory for the LGBT equality movement. The state of Georgia ruled to treat a lesbian couple in the same way as a straight couple. If this sentence was uttered just five years ago people would have said that you were high, but this aspect of the story has been glossed over as a minor detail.
Back to the story. The actual dispute arose when VL moved to Alabama and EL challenged the visitation rights of VL in an Alabama court. The Alabama court ruled that Georgia shouldn’t have enabled VL to have visitation rights, thus creating a split between the two states. This is different to a circuit split but the case eventually made its way up to the Supreme Court. As I said the Supreme Court sided with VL, thus legalising same-sex adoption across the country and the affiliated legal rights like visitation in the event of separation. Because of the precedent set by Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court unanimously supported VL’s right to visitation.
This is what progress looks like. A court in Georgia was deemed too liberal and when challenged by another state the Supreme Court, which is ideologically split 50:50 between conservatives and liberals, voted 8-0 to support equality. The state of Mississippi has remained obstinately opposed to this decision because they are determined to be the most illiberal state in the union but hopefully this will soon be overturned by federal authorities.
There are many metaphors that apply to this situation, the Ripple Effect or the Domino Effect being just a few, but this situation is described well by any of them. Same-sex marriage legalisation was the first domino and with that precedent set the LGBT equality movement has the advantage. A lot of work is still needed to bring about full equality however when Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are siding with LGBT activist we know that equality is not a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of ‘when’.