What Happens if the Right to Same-Sex Intimacy Disappears?

In the wake of Clarence Thomas’s call to reconsider this liberty, LGBTQ Americans share their fears of repression and criminalization

Nathan Ivie, left, with his husband on their ranch in Spanish Fork, Utah. (James Roh for The Washington Post)

2003: The right to same-sex intimacy

In our romantic lives, we express ourselves in lots of ways. Imagine, though, if the most intimate way was suddenly illegal, if sex with your partner meant breaking the law. That possibility now worries some members of the LGBTQ community. Should they move to another state? Should they love in the shadows? What else can be taken away?

We spoke to LGBTQ people across the country whose lives would be upended if Lawrence was overturned. Their stories are laced with fear — but also fierce determination to not step back in time.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

‘We wouldn’t be able to stay here, because I’m not going to go to jail’

Marisa Allison, 42, married her partner in D.C. in 2009, and they moved from Northern Virginia to Huntsville, Ala., in 2019. They have a 4-year-old son. Both grew up in Alabama.

We moved back to Alabama to care for my mom. She ended up passing away, but all of our other parents still live here, so we bought a house and sold ours in Virginia. We were planning to stay — this was going to be our family’s home — but if Lawrence gets overturned, we wouldn’t be able to stay here, because I’m not going to go to jail.

I remember the queer elders back in the day always talking about ways to protect yourself before Lawrence. There was just conversations amongst people about how to protect yourself. I can’t believe we are having them again, but we are. I am absolutely, acutely aware that for men who sleep with men, there’s a different level of threat. But it still feels like if you step out of line, or if the police wanted to get you on something, they would have that as an option.

After Roe got overturned, I think anything is in the realm of possibility. When [Justice Clarence] Thomas issued his opinion [suggesting that rulings such as Lawrence be reconsidered], it felt like there was really no part of our lives that this wasn’t going to touch. I’m a woman who had to go to IVF treatment and had to have a medical abortion because I was bleeding and going to die if they didn’t do anything. And now, fast-forward just a few years and we could be in a state where our marriage wasn’t recognized, where I could go through fertility treatment and then be told that even though I’m bleeding internally and have an ectopic pregnancy, they wouldn’t be able to treat it. If Lawrence were overturned, that could put us in a position that’s unfathomable. It’s just a season of taking away rights, like a gut punch every day.

The ripple effects of us having to leave here would mean we would no longer be able to care for our parents. I can’t even understand how we would unravel that. Knowing what my mom went through with cancer treatment and how much she needed me here, I just can’t imagine. It would just have a really major impact on every single part of our family: my parents, my wife’s parents, our friends and community, even the daycare that our child goes to.

I think that it’s important for folks in the LGBTQ community in the South to really start rolling together. I see that sort of happening, especially in terms of helping everyone to prepare for this. There is something to say about staying here and fighting back. I don’t think we’ll just hit the road and run. But if that means that we’re at risk of being arrested, then that’s a different scenario, because it’s not just about us anymore, it’s about our child. The trauma that would cause — I can’t even think about that. It’s just hard to imagine any of this coming true, but we have to. We have to be prepared.

‘We have nothing that protects us fully’

Bob McCranie, 55, is a real estate broker in Dallas. He has called Texas home for more than three decades.

My friends have always had Plan B’s. Some have already left for Spain, Puerto Vallarta, more liberal blue states. In May 2022, I started a real estate service to help people flee Texas. In August, I extended it to help people flee all red states, because it’s just getting started. There’s going to be migration of LGBTQ+ people, and it’s going to happen in waves, with each election, with every new law that targets our rights to just live and love like everyone else. All of our rights come from executive orders and judicial rulings. Executive orders can be reversed and rulings overturned. We have nothing that protects us fully the way that others are protected. Nothing.

If the vision of Justice Thomas comes true, if Lawrence vs. Texas gets reversed, then anyone can report to the police anybody if they think they’re breaking the law, if they suspect that person is a homosexual and therefore doing something illegal in the privacy of their own home. It’s a horribly destructive force to turn neighbor against neighbor. In California we’ve got Proud Boys standing outside drag bingo. They’re cramming into U-Hauls to rough up gay people at a Pride event in Idaho.

I’ve lived in Texas since ’87, came out in ’92 and started my company in 2009. Now I have to wonder: Will I have my business stripped away from me? Will gays be able to get a mortgage? When my partner and I bought a house, we could not find an insurance company that would put two men on the policy to protect our property. One of us had to be listed as a tenant. We couldn’t go around with our real estate agent and look at a house; she kept introducing us as brothers. Is that the direction we’re headed?

I used to be able to say: “Hey, come on down, the water is fine. Dallas and Fort Worth are great. Houston’s great. Austin’s great. Just don’t get too rural. Most of the time, people just smile and are fine.” I can’t say that anymore. It would be disingenuous to tell a gay person that Texas is a safe place to call home.

‘I’m already under fire for existing’

Etain Prill, 21, is a college student at Indiana University and a research assistant at the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Ind.

“Terrifying” is the first word that comes to mind when I think about all this becoming a reality. And really, things are already not great. IU-Bloomington was recently voted as one of the nation’s safest spaces for LGBTQ+ students. That sounds great, except during the first week of school, someone walked past my friend and me and called us faggots. This happens regularly: gay students threatened with verbal and physical violence, depending on where you are within the town, within the campus. I’m already scared with same-sex sex being legal. I’m already struggling to find acceptance within myself because of the way I identify as a lesbian. I’m already having conversations where people view me as predatory for thinking that another woman is attractive. Now the conversation is changing to define that attraction as an offense against the nation. That’s an insane conversation. I’m already under fire for existing, and that’s with everything being legal. If you’re illegal, that gives people more incentive to be cruel, to say and do really upsetting things.

Coming out for a lot of people is still very dangerous, whether because you get kicked out of your home or face something more violent. If same-sex intimacy was banned, it could be some guy in Psych 101 overhears you talking about your girlfriend, and he can go to campus police and get you arrested. It’s a whole new level of homophobia dialed up to 11.

The Constitution ‘is designed to protect me and my partner’

Nathan Ivie, 44, is a rancher and former Utah County commissioner who lives in Spanish Fork, Utah.

As a very constitutional conservative Republican, I hold very near and dear to my heart the rights of individuals to live their life according to the dictates of their heart. I believe what Justice Thomas is suggesting is a direct threat to our liberties and to our life. Life is more than a heartbeat and breathing. It’s the ability to conduct yourself in a way that produces happiness. What he’s suggesting eliminates, for people like me and my partner, the opportunity to have a life that’s full of joy and happiness. That’s just unconstitutional.

Much of what I call the religious or the socially conservative America doesn’t understand that while they profess to love the Constitution as this inspired document from God, they fail to see that inspired document is designed to protect me and my partner to have that kind of fulfilling, joyful marriage partnership where we love and support each other through everything. That includes typical marriage things. It’s getting frustrated with each other. It’s loving each other. It’s trying to raise kids. It’s having amazing sex. It’s fulfilling who we are as human beings in a relationship. That’s what Clarence Thomas is threatening to take away.

As a Republican, a very conservative person, that troubles me. How do we stop that? Where are the brakes?

The Republican Party has to move away from this idol worship of Donald Trump. To find solutions, we have to elect people who are willing to govern. I have to do my part. Recently, in a very socially conservative county, I worked with the Republican Party to change their platform to remove the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. I hang out with these people. They’re my friends. They love me and my partner.

‘We just don’t want the government telling us who I should be with or how we should be together’

Michael Grönebaum, 37, and Gerald Chambers, 50, own Thomas Weihs Haus, a bed-and-breakfast, in Savannah, Ga. They married in Germany in 2014, and again in 2015 in North Carolina, as Georgia had yet to legalize same-sex marriage.

Chambers: It seems realistic that this protection of same-sex intimacy could be taken away, especially after the overturning of Roe. It would be just a new wrinkle for us. We’re always politically engaged because we have to consider how it’s going to affect our lives, with me being African American and us being an interracial gay couple in the South. It feels like shaky ground now. When we heard that decision and Clarence Thomas basically saying, This is what we should go after next, we just looked at one another and were like: “Really, is this what we’re going to go through again? Why are you, all of sudden, going after another group?”

Grönebaum: It’s not always been easy, of course — there will always people who just don’t get it — but there’s never been a time where I was afraid for my life or afraid of being who I am. It’s so scary that it could become a reality in this country. I know it’s a reality in other countries, but not normally here. It really feels like we’re stepping back in time.

Chambers: A lot of us have more in common than we want to admit. We have the same issues as other couples, especially other interracial couples. We just don’t want the government telling us who I should be with or how we should be together. If I want to be intimate with my husband without the government coming in and saying “I don’t want you to do that,” I should be able to like any other taxpaying citizen.

‘The fear of being intimate definitely takes a toll on a relationship’

Glenda Galarza, 45, lives in Boca Raton, Fla., with her wife, Monicka, 44, and their 9-year-old son.

We’ve been married for 14 years and have a son. We traveled to Connecticut to get married. When it was time to grow our family we moved to Massachusetts in 2009 because Florida is a little backward. We understood that we were not able to change the way things were in Florida, but we still wanted to have the life that we wanted, so we adjusted. I love that in Massachusetts my wife was able to be on the birth certificate as a mom, too. No legal battles, nobody having to adopt anyone, no strange looks. We moved back to Florida shortly after he was born because of family and because Monicka was homesick, and that’s what you do when you love someone. So we’ve already done what we need to do to build the family that we want legally — no one can change that.

The fear of being intimate definitely takes a toll on a relationship, because part of being in a relationship with someone is that physical expression of love. We don’t hold hands much in public or kiss. Sometimes I keep my distance. I’m afraid to say that, but mainly I do it for my son. I don’t want that coming at him. I can handle it, but to have to confront the ignorance and insecurities of other people isn’t worth all that. Already it’s like this and it’s still legal. Monicka recently asked why I don’t hold her hand like I used to. I’d never really told her the real reason. She was sad when I explained, but she understands. We feel accepted in our local community, but you can never really know.

‘No one gets to dictate how I live my life’

Ricardo Martinez, 40, has been the CEO of the LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Texas since 2019. He’s a first-generation immigrant from Mexico who lives in Austin. This interview was conducted both over the phone and through email.

I’m just not going to change anything about my life. No one gets to dictate how I live my life. I don’t care if things “go back.” I’m going to continue to be unapologetically who I am, because that is what I deserve and that’s what people deserve. If there are consequences of going backward, I will cross that bridge when I get there. But I am not changing anything about myself or the way that I lead my life.

I know the torment of living in the closet. I know what the weight of not living openly and authentically feels like, and I know the overwhelming fear and anxiety of being outed. I don’t have to guess what living in a world without Lawrence v. Texas would be like because I imposed some of those restrictions on myself before coming out. I don’t plan on going back to that place regardless of what discriminatory laws this state passes. I have a right to live freely and express the love I have for a partner in the privacy of my home.

I am committing to being here because I can envision a kinder, gentler Texas that lives up to what we know: that 70 percent of Texans believe that discrimination against gay people is wrong. It is scary to live here, but that’s not going to dissuade me from continuing to do the work I do and to live my life in a way that I want live my life.

Are we moving backward? I see it a bit differently, and maybe that helps me in my advocacy. I see this as protecting the gains we’ve made. This moment requires a tremendous amount of uncommon courage, right? You cannot sit on the sidelines, waiting and hoping that the best will happen. You have to participate.

‘We come out every day of our lives’

Diana Farrar, 61, a financial adviser and writer in Carrollton, Texas, fell in love with her best friend, Charlotte, after both of their marriages to men broke up. They got married in Ontario in 2010.

When I heard Thomas mention Obergefell and Lawrence, it scared me to death. If this were to happen, we would both be thrown in jail because we are not going to go back, you know? We have already both decided we’re not the kind who run to a state that’s more friendly. We’re going make a change where we are.

If we’re thrown in jail, what would happen to our grandson, who we are in the process of adopting? When Thomas said that, Charlotte and I looked at each other and said: We have to adopt him now.

Making illegal our intimate lives seems like an absolute total disregard for — I don’t want to say personal choice because it’s not a choice who you love. It hurts so emotionally. Whether you get a sideways glance at a restaurant or when you’re at a concert, walking hand in hand and if you’re threatened with something like arrest — I can’t imagine any straight couple even being able to imagine what that feels like. We come out every day of our lives. Every day there is a risk. But the kind of risk you’re talking about, about our love being illegal, is visceral.

Amanda Long is a massage therapist and writer in Northern Virginia.