Jim Obergefell, Man At Center Of SCOTUS Marriage Equality Case, Running For Office

Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized marriage equality, is running for a seat in the Ohio House.
Jim Obergefell is running for the state House in Ohio.
Jim Obergefell is running for the state House in Ohio.
Tommaso Boddi via Getty Images

Jim Obergefell, who was at the center of the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized marriage equality in the United States, announced Tuesday that he is running for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement.

Obergefell grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, and attended the University of Cincinnati. He is now running there as a Democrat in the 89th House District, currently held by Republican D.J. Swearingen.

In a call with reporters Tuesday morning, Obergefell said that he came home to Sandusky in June. Previously he had also lived in Cincinnati, and then Washington, D.C. for several years. He moved back to Ohio, Columbus, in 2019.

Obergefell came to his fame through tragedy. In 2011, his longtime partner John Arthur was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Two years later, they were legally wed in Maryland. But they were married just over three months before Arthur died. The pair had been together for 22 years.

Obergefell’s home state of Ohio still banned same-sex marriage at that time, and therefore he could not be listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. His decision to sue the state of Ohio set him on a course to change U.S. history.

The suit was one of four that went before the Supreme Court in this group. Because his case number was the lowest, per court tradition, everything was lumped under Obergefell’s name.

And in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Constitution guarantees a right to marriage equality.

Obergefell, 55, was not involved in politics before the Supreme Court case. In 2015, a Washington Post profile described him as “a soft-spoken real estate broker with little previous interest in political activism.”

He told reporters Tuesday that he didn’t have any thought of running for office when he returned to Sandusky. But in late summer or early fall, the idea started coming up.

“Did I want to put myself in this type of public arena?” Obergefell said he recalled thinking. “I knew I wanted to do something to make things better.”

Because of his national profile and LGBTQ activism, Obergefell will likely be able to attract significant funds for his campaign.

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