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Missouri LGBTQ community fears abortion decision puts gay marriage in danger

Hundreds of people march through The Grove neighborhood of St. Louis on Friday, June 24, 2022, during a protest in relation to a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which largely deals with abortion care.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Hundreds of people march through the Grove neighborhood of St. Louis on Friday, during a protest in relation to a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which largely deals with abortion rights.

Brian Garrison proposed to Kyle Gunning in St. Louis’ Forest Park in April. The park is their favorite spot, and Gunning said it’s the dream location for their upcoming wedding.

When Gunning accepted the proposal, he was already nervous about whether their future marriage would be legal. His fears intensified last week when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in the United States.

“We want to be able to celebrate our love and our relationship the way that we had always thought we would,” Gunning said.

The court’s decision could prompt it to reconsider a 2015 ruling that found gay marriage constitutional, wrote Justice Clarence Thomas. He suggested revisiting three cases that legalized contraception, same-sex relationships and gay marriage.

The abortion decision has spurred Gunning and many others in the LGBTQ community to consider moving to Illinois.

But Gunning, who was born and raised in Missouri, said he doesn’t want to leave the state where he’s building a life with his partner.

“The idea that we would have to move anywhere else to be able to live our lives safely and not have to worry about our protections is scary,” Gunning said.

Gunning isn’t the only Missourian in the LGBTQ community who has considered leaving the state, said the Rev. Wes Mullins, a senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Greater St. Louis.

“I don't know of anybody who hasn't at least thought about it,” Mullins said, “especially living here in St. Louis where it's just a matter of moving across a river.”

Mullins performed the first legal gay marriage in Missouri in 2015. That day, there was a constant stream of marriages at St. Louis City Hall because many were worried that Missouri courts would challenge the ruling, he said.

Gay marriage remains legal in Missouri. But Mullins said he’s now concerned — especially for his majority LGBTQ congregation — that more rights could disappear.

“Throughout history, gay rights have always followed women's rights,” Mullins said. “Now really is the time to stand up and to recognize that whether you are a person who is able to bear children or not, this is about all of us.”

Gay marriage became legal in the United States in the summer of 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry under the 14th Amendment guarantee to equal protection.

That ruling was one that the St. Louis LGBTQ community had longed for for decades, said Steven Louis Brawley, who documents gay history. Now, Brawley said, the community should not take gay marriage for granted.

“We need to be ready,” Brawley said. “People understanding their history matters because it helps them realize how precious our rights are if they can be taken away.”

The right to bodily autonomy is deeply important to the transgender community. Jordan Braxton, a transgender woman, said she worries whether Missouri politicians could halt her transition.

“If they can overturn abortion, I don't want there to be any laws to say that I can't follow through with my transition [and] that I can't do anything with my body they don't think is lawful,” Braxton said.

“It's like a domino effect,” Braxton said.

The possibility of ending rights for people in the LGBTQ community has made many people in Missouri feel unsafe. But he plans to stay and fight for people who can’t move to another state and need their rights protected in Missouri.

“It’s true that it's your home, but part of what makes it home is that it's safe,” Mullins said. “If Missouri shows itself to not be a safe place, then it can't really be home.”

Farrah Anderson is the newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio. Follow her on Twitter: @farrahsoa.

Farrah Anderson is an intern at Illinois Public Media and a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is studying journalism. She previously interned for St. Louis Public Radio in the summer of 2022.