Story By Seth Carpenter
On September 2, Kyle and Joe Carmon finished boxing up their Chattanooga apartment of one year and left for Minnesota. The Carmon’s did all of this in order to protect something many other couples might take for granted: their marriage.
“We were really considering living here for the rest of our lives,” Kyle said. “It’s strange how much can change in such a short amount of time.”
That change was brought on by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he wrote in his June 24 Roe v. Wade opinion about re-examining other due process cases, including Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision that guarantees the right to same-sex marriage in the U.S.
“Firstly was realizing that with Roe v. Wade and with what Clarence Thomas said, we weren’t comfortable here,” Joe said. “And if we weren’t comfortable here, then we wanted to move.”
After just a couple days, the Carmon’s decided they would not renew their apartment’s lease come September. Instead, they would move to Minnesota, a state which has had same-sex marriage codified in state law since 2013 and would therefore not be directly affected by a re-examination of Obergefell.
According to a 2022 Pew Trust article, without Obergefell, Tennessee would become one of nearly three dozen states to ban same-sex marriages within their borders. This ban would lead to a cascade of issues for the couple.
“If that were to happen, it creates some big legal problems for us in terms of insurance, like [Kyle is] diabetic and hypertensive. So all of his medications come through my insurance,” Joe said. “What if one of us gets hurt in the hospital and we’re not legally married, then we can’t legally do anything for each other.”
For both of them, the decision was obvious.
“I would rather it not even be an issue,” Kyle said. “And if that means that we need to move to Minnesota, then so be it.”
By the time moving day arrived, the couple had lived in Chattanooga for barely a year, having been driven to the scenic city when Hurricane Ida destroyed their New Orleans apartment. But living in the Bible Belt was something the couple was still adjusting to even after all this time.
“One of the things that we talked about with Chattanooga being a little tough is the visibility of the community. There’s not a lot of it. We’re used to living in a place where you can see culture represented whether it be flags or posters or things people are wearing, the things that are happening,” Joe said. “The fact that there isn’t a visible culture a lot of the times makes us feel like we can’t be visible.”
For Joe, the issue of visibility was a very personal one. Having grown up Catholic, the predominant view on being gay was that it didn’t really exist as an intrinsic quality of a person, but rather as a problematic act people engage in.
“Growing up in that world being a gay person, I literally didn’t think I was gay because I was told I wasn’t. So it was a very different mindset for me… [because] I had all these attractions and things, but in my head, I was being taught and told that that was wrong,” Joe said. “I literally convinced myself I wasn’t gay until I was in my mid-twenties and left the monastery.”
After years of living as their authentic selves outside of the stifling worldviews of others, word of the Supreme Court eyeing their right to marriage was a wake-up call for the couple.
“I didn’t even realize that was even possible. Because I was assuming ‘Oh, that was like the Supreme Court made this decision. That’s how things go in this country,’” Joe said. “And the fact that a Supreme Court judge can just outright say that [Obergefell]… should be reconsidered means that there’s at least a possibility that it can be overturned. And that possibility in itself is a problem.”
At the end of the day, the Carmon’s could not stand by and wait for the problem to manifest itself. Regardless of whatever else they faced, they would face it as husbands and nothing less.
“This is my husband. He’s not my roommate. He’s not my life partner. That’s my husband, and I love him. And I shouldn’t have to define that any other way just because somebody’s book says so or their thoughts say so,” Kyle said. “This is my husband, and I don’t want that to change.”
Seth Carpenter is a photojournalist and the photo editor of UT Chattanooga’s student-run newspaper, the University Echo. Seth has done stories on a nurse working through COVID-19, the life of a former prisoner, and much more. Seth hopes the stories they tell will make a difference in the lives of others. If you have a story that needs to be told, reach out to Seth at Sethcarpenter101@gmail.com.