AUSTIN, Texas — Wedding dates are getting moved up. Paternity documents and wills are being updated. Homes are up for sale.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the right to an abortion quickly renewed debate over the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — especially those living in red states. Worried the court will revisit other rulings like gay marriage, some LGBT Texans are changing their life plans, with some deciding to leave the state.
Preparing for the worst is helping some wrest a feeling of control — and, sometimes, even eke out a modicum of joy — in an otherwise chaotic and frightening time.
Gay marriage is safe for now. Legal experts say it could be years before the Supreme Court is asked to revisit one of its landmark decisions on LGBT rights. But Texas law contains few protections for LGBT residents. Texas is one of 25 states that define marriage as between one man and one woman in their state constitutions even though these bans are unconstitutional. And while unenforceable, Texas law also still outlaws gay sex.
In the wake of the abortion ruling, some of the state’s most powerful officials have promised once again to target LGBT issues. The rights of transgender Texans, in particular, are in their sights.
Rafael McDonnell, the advocacy and communications manager for the Dallas-based LGBT organization Resource Center, said he is seeing an “acceleration” of post-Roe preparation.
“We’re seeing people do all sorts of things from physically making plans to leave the state in the near future to couples who have been together for many years putting wedding dates on calendars,” McDonnell said. “People are trying to prepare themselves for an uncertain future. And whatever that uncertain future is varies by the person.”
Rocky Lane was born in Houston and has lived in Texas most of his 40 years. He says the political climate, especially attacks on transgender Texans such as himself, has driven him and his wife Sarah Swofford to look for a new home. With an LGBT-focused social media and consulting company that they run remotely, an RV and their 9-year-old chihuahua Doodle in tow, they plan to continue to advocate for Texans like them wherever they go.
“There’s only so much unhappiness and fight that a person can take,” Rocky said. “Go where you’re appreciated, not tolerated.”
Married at last
James Miller and Ricky Morrison have been together for nine years.
In that time they navigated James’ late-in-life coming out, moved into a home together in Fort Worth and helped raise two teenagers. They never got around to getting married — until now.
On Sept. 4, the couple will exchange vows in a secular ceremony with just a dozen invited guests. They rushed to throw the wedding together because they are concerned that if they wait, they will no longer have the right to get married.
“After the Supreme Court coming out about abortion it was like, ‘Well, we’re probably going to be next,’” said James, a logistics manager for fiber optics manufacturing. “And so we decided to get married.”
In June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, made it clear the ruling dealt only with abortion. But Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, warned that the court’s previous decisions on same-sex partner intimacy, gay marriage and even contraception could — and should — be reversed because they are based on the same constitutional principles as Roe.
“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents,” Thomas wrote. He then referred specifically to Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 ruling striking down bans on gay sex in Texas and 12 other states, and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
The warning felt stronger for those living in places like Texas. State law includes almost no protections for LGBT people. The hate crimes law includes attacks motivated by homophobia, but lawmakers have not added gender identity to the statute.
GOP leaders have targeted LGBT rights in recent years. In 2021, they passed a law restricting sports participation by transgender students. When lawmakers meet next year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to crack down on gender-affirming medical care and ban the discussion of sexual orientation in classrooms.
None of the state’s top elected leaders has said in any detail what Roe’s fall could mean for the rights of LGBT Texans.
James and Ricky were both born and raised here. Ricky hails from The Colony in nearby Denton County and James, a seventh-generation Texan and son of ranchers, grew up in the tiny town of Boyd in Wise County.
Neither wants to leave Texas. But they’ll consider it if gay Texans are once again threatened with criminal prosecution.
Whatever the future may hold, James and Ricky feel heartened that they will face it as a married couple. They’re looking forward to their honeymoon in Cozumel and the intimate wedding that will precede it.
At the ceremony, they both plan to wear light pink.
“We’re excited,” James said. “It’s not all ‘end of the world’ stuff. There is hope.”
Amanda and Raianna started their fertility journey a year ago.
In addition to all of the regular problems people go through when trying to conceive, the couple is grappling with the legal questions of starting a family as a same-sex couple.
“The things that are most concerning are, ‘What are we missing?’” Raianna said. The couple asked to be identified by their first names to protect their safety due to concerns about attacks against LGBT educators.
The couple said their biggest worry is making sure the state recognizes them both as the parents of their future child. Especially now that Roe has fallen — spurring confusion about what pregnancy complications can be treated and when — the couple want to ensure all the paternity paperwork is in place in case something happens to Amanda during pregnancy or childbirth.
As school district employees, Amanda and Raianna said they’ve made sure to educate themselves on every possible step of the process. They have a good lawyer, a good doctor and have chosen to stay in the Austin area due to the city’s strong support for LGBT residents.
The pressure to feel prepared is more acute because they are an interracial couple.
Amanda said they began to work in earnest on the paperwork after the draft opinion overturning Roe was leaked in May and LGBT activists began wondering, whether gay rights are next.
“We immediately knew the implications that that could have on our marriage,” Amanda said. “But there was still a part of us that didn’t think it could happen. I think we were holding out for that.”
Raianna added: “It’s stressful just constantly always trying to think ahead of the laws because it feels like things could just turn on a whim.”
The couple said they have found comfort in the support of their family and friends, in the “trauma bonding” they’ve experienced with other LGBT couples trying to conceive and, especially, in the possibility that they could soon be creating life together.
“Scientific miracles,” Raianna said. “That’s something that brings me joy.”
Rocky and Sarah first started seriously considering leaving the state about five years ago.
Hillary Clinton had lost the election to Donald Trump, and the political pendulum seemed to be swinging to the right both nationally and in Texas. In 2017, state legislators debated a bill that would have restricted what kinds of bathrooms transgender people could use.
The bathroom bill didn’t become law. But last year, legislators succeeded in passing a bill that restricts transgender kids’ participation in sports and a few months ago, the state began targeting health care for transgender minors.
A year ago, Rocky and Sarah began to search for a new home. But it wasn’t until the abortion ruling was issued that they decided they would never again live in Texas.
“For a long time, we kind of thought, ‘Oh, well, we’ll keep our homestead in Texas, but we’ll just bounce around,” Sarah, who identifies as nonbinary, said while the couple was in Canada weighing whether to move there. “Now, I don’t think we are going to be welcome in Texas much longer.”
Rocky and Sarah are seriously considering a move overseas. Amid all the heartache and fear, they have enjoyed visiting places where their marriage is embraced, where interracial transgender families like theirs are protected such as Canada and Portugal.
“That’s the happy piece: knowing that the whole world isn’t like what we’re experiencing in Texas,” Rocky said.
As longtime activists for the rights of Black transgender people, not a day goes by when they don’t get calls for advice from Texans who’ve decided to stay and fight for LGBT rights on the ground. The couple hope meeting other advocates during their travels will help them learn and pass along better information to those back home.
“We can fight from anywhere,” Rocky said. But he added, “We don’t want to be fighting forever.”
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