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Jim Obergefell    

Lead Plaintiff in the US Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Case; ALS Awareness Advocate

Seeking state recognition for his marriage, Jim Obergefell became the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that would legalize same-sex marriage across the United States.

A resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, realtor and IT consultant Jim Obergefell met and fell in love with John Arthur in 1992. The devoted couple were together for two decades and traveled to Maryland to officially marry in 2013, with Arthur having been diagnosed with ALS. After his husband’s death, Obergefell entered a legal battle with the state of Ohio to be recognized as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. His case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, combined with other suits to become known as Obergefell v. Hodges that ultimately asked whether all states must issue marriage licenses to gay couples. On June 26, 2015, the court ruled that the Constitution supports same-sex marriage for the entirety of the United States.

Future activist Jim Obergefell was raised in the northern Ohio region, the son of a Catholic clan with five older siblings. He came out as gay to his family in his mid-20s, and in 1992 met John Arthur. Obergefell and Arthur met twice at a Cincinnati bar, but felt no sparks until they connected for a third time at a friend’s party. They soon fell deeply in love and built a life together in Cincinnati. The lived and worked together as consultants, followed a passion for collecting art and surrounded themselves with an extensive network of friends and family.

In 2011, Arthur began to have severe issues with mobility, and he was eventually diagnosed with the motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. With the condition eventually taking away Arthur’s ability to move, Obergefell stood by his side and served as his partner’s primary caretaker. The two had decided to become legally married, but several years earlier Ohio had passed a state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage.

With Maryland being a state where same-sex marriage was legal and that only required one partner to travel there to get a license, Obergefell received $13,000 from friends and associates to hire a medical plane to fly him and Arthur to Maryland. With Arthur’s aunt Paulette Roberts officiating their ceremony, Obergefell and Arthur got married on the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on July 11, 2013.

Arthur died three months after the wedding. Before his death, he and Obergefell had decided to file a lawsuit for Obergefell to be placed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate, with a federal judge ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. The state of Ohio however challenged this ruling and won, with other circuit court decisions, in contrast, delivering pro-same-sex marriage rulings. Thus Obergefell decided to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court, with a precedent having been set in the case of Windsor v. United States. Obergefell’s case became combined with other lawsuits filed by LGBT plaintiffs from four states, which also involved couples who had adopted children. As Obergefell’s case number was the lowest, the combined lawsuit became known as Obergefell v. Hodges.

Obergefell’s case presented two questions: 1) whether the Constitution calls for states where gay marriage isn’t legal to recognize gay unions that occurred out of state, and 2) whether the Constitution legally requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Obergefell and his team presented his case before the Supreme Court on April 28, 2015. Two months later, on June 26, 2015, the highest court of the land in a split decision of 5-4 ruled that the Constitution indeed supports same-sex marriage, thus making such unions legal for the entirety of the United States.

Not seeing himself as a traditional activist, an emotional Obergefell spoke of his love for his husband after the ruling and received calls of congratulations from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. That weekend, Obergefell took part in pride celebrations in his home city and San Francisco, and has continued to be embraced by a wave of people as an iconic hero.



James Obergefell and John Arthur, lived in a loving and committed relationship for 22 years until John's death on October 22, 2013. In 2011, John was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition for which there is no cure and Jim cared for him at every stage of his illness...

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After two decades together, Jim Obergefell and John Arthur married in 2013, as Arthur was dying from ALS. Ohio doesn’t recognize their marriage. Next month, the Supreme Court will decide if it must...

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