Morrison’s mothers, Audrey and Karen, met nearly twenty-five years ago, spending more than two decades of that time as an engaged couple. Born in Arizona, Morrison’s family—which grew to include her younger sisters, Jillian and Teagan—moved to Kentucky in the early 2000s, and they’ve called the Bluegrass State home ever since.
Despite the fact that her family models a great deal of the ideal Southern family — with a focus on family values and an adherence to Christianity — Morrison remembers noticing society’s strained relationship with families like hers even from a young age. “I always sensed that people either thought that my family was different or mainly just didn’t see my family,” she said, reflecting on hearing remarks in school that minimized, delegitimized, or belittled the existence of her family on a daily basis.
Morrison felt the brunt of that culture of delegitimization while still in elementary school. In 2004, Kentucky voters passed Amendment 1 to ban same-sex marriage in the state — with 75% voting in favor of the ban. Eight-year-old Morrison went with her mother to the polls that Election Day with the hope that, should the ban fail, she could walk before her mothers as a flower girl in their wedding. After learning that the measure would definitely pass, Morrison remembered “for the first time looking around at everybody else [in the polling place] thinking ‘Who is voting against my family right now? […] Why don’t they see us? Why don’t they recognize my family?’’”
Just over ten years later, as Morrison’s first quarter as a Stanford student was drawing to a close, that same ballot measure helped propel her to the Supreme Court. After a US District Court judge ruled against Amendment 1, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over the contiguous area of Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Michigan) reversed the decision and upheld the ban’s constitutionality on November 6, 2014. But unlike in 2004, when she could react only with frustration and fear, Morrison now had the ability to fight back.
Her fight started with an article in Louisville’s Courier Journal, entitled “My two moms”. Through the article, Morrison called out the Sixth Circuit Court for failing to uphold “the sanctity of anything” when they supported Amendment 1. She describes the article as “very successful locally” in Louisville, helping to change the hearts and minds of people she knew who had previously opposed same-sex marriage in Kentucky.
As Fall Quarter finals loomed on the horizon, however, she heard that fight against Amendment 1 had the potential to get much bigger. The US Supreme Court was choosing then whether to hear an appeal of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling on Amendment 1, and three other same-sex marriage bans, through a case called Obergefell v. Hodges (which they eventually decided to do). As such, Morrison wanted to take her fight against Kentucky’s intolerant ban to a wider audience as well.
But when national publications, like The Huffington Post and the New York Times, refused to print further letters and op-eds that she wrote, she decided to go a different route. Telling herself that “nobody has to say ‘yes’ to me for me to put something on YouTube,” Morrison and her sisters decided to make a video they named “Sanctity”.
The video, which now has nearly 9,000 views on YouTube, highlights two main ideas. Firstly, it shows the three siblings talking about the discrimination and needless hardship their family has had to endure because of our country’s failure to live up to the idea of “liberty and justice for all.” The video also highlights the fact that marriages-in-all-but-name, like those of their moms, more closely align with the idea of sanctified marriage than unions like Kim Kardashian’s 2-month-long marriage to Kris Humphries, which both law and society allow. “Sanctity” presents these two messages in a way that Morrison thinks can more effectively reach people in modern US society than her previous written attempts. “I think that nowadays, in the very digital age, a lot of people would rather watch a video than read an article anyway,” she said, “although as a writer that kind of hurts me.”
One group that the video reached was the Family Equality Council, or FEC, an advocacy group which helps support and connect LGBT parents and their children around the country. Upon seeing Morrison’s video, the group invited her to join their “Outspoken Generation” program, which now prominently features her family’s story as well as her “Sanctity” video. Morrison, who had never heard of the Northeast-grown FEC before they contacted her, had nothing but praise for the organization: “It was such a blessing to be able to meet them through this, and they’ve just been so incredible with giving me a legal standing for what I wanted and, in some ways, needed to say.”
That legal standing came with an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief that the group filed in Obergefell. Pulling quotes from “Sanctity”, Morrison’s published articles, and The 321 Blog that she runs with her sisters, the brief entered Morrison’s story and her arguments into the record of the case. She felt like the FEC’s efforts would ultimately help her fight for her family’s liberty and equality, since, she joked, Justices “Alito and Scalia are not probably surfing [her] YouTube channel, despite [her] tweeting the video at them.”
Partnering with the FEC, which she will continue to do in Kentucky this summer, also granted Morrison the opportunity to speak to the pro-marriage-equality rally outside the Supreme Court on April 28—an experience she will never forget.
“Rarely do you live five minutes of your life,” she remarked, “and know that you’re going to remember them forever.” Her speech to the assembled demonstrators, which she and one of her best friends spent hours writing and revising the Saturday before, dealt with many of the themes that have defined her advocacy thus far, including her use of her family’s experience as a focalizer for the wider marriage equality debate. News of the speech spread quickly, with coverage from The Stanford Daily to the Los Angeles Times, which Morrison expected. Even with all of that attention, though, Morrison’s main feeling of accomplishment came from how the speech resonated with the crowd standing there with her:
I thought the value of my speech, and if I would feel good about it or not, would depend on how much media attention it would get or if the Supreme Court would actually see it…And after giving it, I really didn’t feel that way. I felt total peace with whatever ended up happening…It was more my connection with those people right then that was what was moving.
In the speech, Morrison at several points brought up an important factor in her advocacy for the rights of LGBTQ people: her and her family’s Christian faith. A part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) here on campus, she has found that using religion as a part of marriage equality activism has helped her to reach people on a deep level. “Just being a Christian gay rights activist on Stanford’s campus,” she said, “…has been sort of an interesting thing and made people [from a variety of religious and political perspectives] really think.”
Bringing her faith into her speech proved particularly significant. The lectern from which she spoke stood mere meters away from one used by speakers decrying same-sex marriage as sinful in a Judeo-Christian context. Much of the opposition that Morrison has noted throughout her life, and that she saw on obvious display on the steps of the Supreme Court, “really twisted the Bible in shameful ways” not only to oppose marriage equality but also to promote hatred and discrimination against LGBTQ people like her moms. Some of the anti-equality speakers at the Court that day also repurposed bits of contemporary US pop culture to suit their purposes; Morrison remembered “a woman who was singing ‘Grenade’ by Bruno Mars” at the pro-equality demonstrators, “but she had changed the lyrics to ‘God’s got a grenade for you’…And I was like ‘Really? Is that how far you have to go?’”
Beyond just the anti-equality crusaders’ signs and slogans, Morrison recognizes what she sees as the bastardization of Christianity as a major threat to LGBTQ people and their families. She sees “Christian-based discrimination [against LGBTQ people as] probably the single biggest threat to [their] lived equality.” Morrison describes such lived equality as a cultural analogue to the political ‘legal equality’ promised by both same-sex marriage and non-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people—which she hopes comes as the next legal step in the LGBTQ rights movement after marriage equality is achieved. But while a single Supreme Court decision can advance legal equality a great deal, true lived equality will depend on social powers, like churches (and particularly churches in the South), to become forces advocating for acceptance of LGBTQ people.
Luckily, Morrison has found campus Christian communities, like IVCF, already quietly adopting such accepting attitudes. The Stanford student community as a whole, she is proud to say, also has such an attitude towards LGBTQ students and towards the issue of same-sex marriage; she described our University as a place where public opposition to marriage equality (as with a recent op-ed in The Stanford Daily) is rare and “taboo.”
With Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that brought her to the Supreme Court in April, Morrison hopes to see such attitudes reflected in the law of the land around the US — or, at least, in Kentucky and the other three states. The prospective pre-law student has spent a great deal of time thinking through the case, and she is both “cautiously optimistic” that Justice Anthony Kennedy (or even Chief Justice John Roberts) will side with the Court’s left wing in a ruling against the same-sex marriage bans in the four Sixth Circuit states and “hopeful” that they would extend that ruling to the other nine states with similar bans.
She sees compelling legal justifications for a majority to rule that way based on one of two major questions posed by the case—namely, are states required to recognize either a) the right of same-sex couples to marry, or b) the validity of same-sex marriages performed in other states? That an affirmative ruling on even one of these questions would effectively validate the other, in Morrison’s estimation, makes her more confident about the outcome of Obergefell.
Morrison found Chief Justice Roberts’ line of questioning in the April 28 hearing more heartening still. He seemed to set up the case so that the Court could rule against same-sex marriage bans on the basis that they form instances of sexual discrimination rather than as discrimination against a minority sexuality group per se. Ruling in this way would mean that Kentucky’s Amendment 1 violates the rights of Morrison’s moms because it blocks their right to autonomy in making decisions about their relationship, not because their sexual orientation makes them a protected class. Such a legal maneuver both creates another path to marriage equality and sidesteps other “slippery slope” issues that the Court generally seems to avoid—as it did when limiting previous same-sex marriage decisions to specific states as a means to build a stronger, more limited precedent.
And if Obergefell leads to the universalization of marriage equality in all 50 states? Morrison will spend the summer helping the FEC move forward into the next chapter of the fight for LGBTQ rights in the US—likely non-discrimination laws, like ENDA—after standing beside her moms at the altar as their maid of honor.