On June 24, moments after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that the court should reconsider Griswold v. Connecticut, Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges—the rulings that protect contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.
Thomas argued that the constitution's Due Process Clause does not secure a right to an abortion or any other substantive rights, and he urged the court to apply that reasoning to other landmark cases. He contended that Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell were "demonstrably erroneous" and that the court has "a duty to 'correct the error' established in those precedents."
However, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said in a separate concurring opinion that the reversal of Roe does not necessarily mean the court will be overturning other landmark decisions, including Griswold and Lawrence.
"I emphasize what the Court today states: Overruling Roe does not mean the overruling of those precedents and does not threaten or cast doubt on those precedents," Kavanaugh said.
In 1965, the court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that married couples have a right to access contraception. In the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, the court concluded that states could not restrict two people of the same sex from engaging in consensual sex. And its 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges instituted a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
[Read the statement from the Society for Human Resource Management on the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.]
LGBTQ Activists React
Moments after the release of Thomas' opinion, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) tweeted its dissatisfaction with the suggestion that LGBTQ rights could be rolled back in the future.
"This new vision of the constitution will embolden state legislators to make trouble—but today, it has no immediate legal effects on the right to same-sex marriage or same-sex intimacy," HRC's Twitter post read. "Our fight right now is centered on ensuring people still have access to the abortion and reproductive services they need, but make no mistake: We will not back down from defending the progress we have made and keeping the fight for full LGBTQ+ equality going."
Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of nonprofit The Trevor Project, which provides support services to LGBTQ youth, said in a statement that the Roe reversal and potential overturning of LGBTQ-related court decisions could have lingering consequences.
"Overturning Roe v. Wade will allow states to further restrict and regulate essential health care and reduce access to the already limited number of LGBTQ-competent providers in many parts of the country, posing a threat to the health and safety of young LGBTQ people," the statement read. "In undermining decades of jurisprudence on the constitutional right to privacy, this decision could also jeopardize the rights afforded to LGBTQ people in the landmark Obergefell and Lawrence decisions—to love who you love and be who you are without fear of criminalization."
Geri Johnson, chief operating officer for public relations firm Next PR, is an openly queer woman who is still coming to grips with the Roe reversal as well as the suggestion that the erosion of LGBTQ rights could be next.
"To be told that not only is my bodily autonomy being stripped away by the very people assigned to 'protect' me, but next could be my legal right to be married to my wife is troubling," Johnson said. "What's more is that I know I'm not the only one on my team experiencing these emotions as I attempt to focus on work today."
How CEOs Should Handle the News
Ben Greene is a transgender man who is a St. Louis-based public speaker, consultant and LGBTQ-rights activist. He said Thomas' concurring opinion elicits fear in many LGBTQ employees.
"Most of us aren't shocked. Especially as a member of the trans community, we've known these attacks were increasing in intensity and have seen this coming, but we're still terrified," Greene explained. "We carry that fear around with us—on our minds and our hearts 24/7—and when we go to work that fear shows up as wondering who around us is in support of these bills and rulings. Who is going to become emboldened and empowered to hate me, to fire me or [to do] something worse?"
Johnson said that profound feelings of uncertainty that may have subsided when legal protections were afforded to the LGBTQ community will now be reignited, and that the workplace is not an island unaffected by these emotions.
"I'm a leader at a company that's women-led, -owned and -operated. I would be remiss to not acknowledge a day like [June 24], and that's exactly what I plan to do on our [next] all-company meeting," Johnson said. "I advise other leaders to do the same."
She said it is the responsibility of business leaders to prioritize the well-being of their workforce. If workers aren't feeling safe and protected in their own home and by their own government, they certainly aren't feeling safe and protected at work, Johnson said.
"You don't have to take a stance," she added. "Something as simple as, 'We want to take a moment to acknowledge the news on Friday and that it may have an impact on a lot of individuals here. Please reach out to your manager if you need support.' "
Johnson also noted that, "Silence will allow others to create a narrative for you, and it may be one that has consequences for your business, like team members leaving."
The Society for Human Resource Management provides resources to help companies foster a more inclusive workplace for LGBTQ employees. These resources include tips for effective practices, the importance of using preferred pronouns, information about federal regulations and more.