Spotlight on: Jim Obergefell
“What we’re asking for is simply to be part of the same tradition of marriage where two people commit to each other and make those promises to love, protect, and honor each other….How are we harming that? We’re just asking to do the same thing.”
Jim Obergefell is husband to the late John Arthur. Unfortunately, the supreme court hearing that he is currently involved in could decide whether he gets to keep that title or not.
Oberfell’s case, Oberfell v. Hodges, takes on two questions; the first is if the constitution requires a state where same-sex marriage has not been legalized to recognize a same-sex marriage done in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. The second question that comes into play is whether same-sex marriage should be legal nation wide.
Oberfell met his husband, John Arthur, in 1992. For twenty years the couple was satisfied with just being a couple; they worked in IT consulting together, lived together in Cincinnati, and hosted foreign exchange students together during the school year. Their satisfaction in their situation changed when Edie Windsor won her case before the Supreme Court which forced federal governments to recognize same-sex marriages in states where they were performed legally.
The other large affect had to do with the decline of Arthur’s health. In 2011, he was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, involves the death of neurons. Following this fatal diagnosis, the couple decided to wed. Being that same-sex marriage is still illegal in Ohio, this presented some issues.
Obergfell wasn’t defeated. He flew to Maryland for a marriage license, then returned back to Ohio to fly Arthur and Paulette Roberts, Arthur’s aunt who had gotten ordained specifically so she could marry the two, back to Maryland for a fast yet meaningful marriage on the tarmac of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
They returned home, and were informed that because Ohio did not recognize same-sex marriage, Arthur would still be listed as “single” on his death certificate. Obergfell won a temporary injunction, and was listed as “spouse” on Arthur’s death certificate when he passed three months later.
Yet the battle continues.
In December of 2013, the injunction was made permanent, a ruling that the state of Ohio immediately filed for an appeal on. They wanted Obergfell’s name removed from the death certificate. Once the case was received by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the summer of 2014, same-sex marriage cases in Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee were pulled in. The appeals court ruled against them all, something which contradicted other circuit court decisions. These differences in opinion led them all to the final (and current) stop: the Supreme Court.
All of the cases have been combined under the title of Obergefell v. Hodges. If the court rules in their favor, this could not only influence same–sex marriages, but also rule on the general fact of discrimination based on sexual orientation being unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, with the good news comes bad news: currently, of the 37 states that have legalized same-sex marriage, it is only legal in 21 of those states because courts ruled that state bans were unconstitutional. On the SLIGHT chance that the Supreme Court both rules against Obergefell AND says that the constitution does not protect marriage at all, then those rulings could be in jeopardy.
Ideally, this is a risk worth taking. Obergefell will be making his third trip to the Supreme Court on the day that this decision is reached, and hopes that the third time really will be the charm.