Jim Obergefell reflects on five years of marriage equality, activism

Five years after a major United States Supreme Court case, Sandusky native Jim Obergefell said although his activism for the LGBTQ+ community looks a bit different, he remains committed to advocating for minority rights.

Obergefell was the face among many other plaintiffs in the Obergefell v. Hodges civil rights case, which ruled same-sex marriage legal in June 2015.

The win prompted years of speeches and celebrations on his part.

“Five years ago, it was certainly celebratory,” Obergefell said. “I spent a lot of the first few years talking and celebrating the wins our community had made.”

After seven years of working in what has felt like solitude, he said he now faces questions with his professional career, hoping to work with an advocacy organization.

“For the past seven years, I was all on my own,” Obergefell said. “I want to be a little more focused, a little more direct by being part of an organization.”

How it started

A marriage on an airport runway was one of the first moments that led Obergefell on a journey to marriage equality.

He and his husband, John Arthur, who was severely ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease, traveled to Maryland in July 2013 to get married.

Due to Arthur’s health, the couple was married on the very plane that they had traveled on.

Arriving back in the couple’s Ohio home, Obergefell filed a lawsuit, Obergefell v. Kasich, later that month after learning the courts would not recognize the couple as married on Arthur’s death certificate.

How it continued

Although the fight for marriage equality had reached its peak, Obergefell said the years after winning the suit led him to speak up on other issues pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community, like adoption, that was not equal.

This led him to join many advocacy boards over the years, including SAGE and California’s GLBT History Museum.

Obergefell also founded Equality Vines with Matt Grove in 2015, which produces a variety of different wines with profits that benefit different advocacy missions.

He said the business is looking to push out its first wines to benefit immigrant rights and racial equality, with other current wines supporting women’s rights, among others.

Obergefell said after fighting for his own rights, he learned the benefit of fighting for others.

“As time went on, my focus went more from LGBTQ+ rights to really civil rights for all,” he said. “That’s been an important personal growth for me, that we would not have made the strides we made if it weren’t for the civil rights fight by people of color.”

Now, Obergefell’s advocacy reach looks a bit different due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

He said while he usually speaks for higher education and corporate institutions and government offices, many of those events either were canceled, postponed or taken to Zoom.

Coming home

After living in Washington, D.C., for three years, Obergefell has lived in Columbus for the past 18 months.

He said he experienced a hankering for returning home.

“I missed Ohio, and realized I wanted to be closer to family,” Obergefell said.

Before the pandemic, Obergefell said he was even looking forward to opening a wine tasting room in Columbus for Equality Vines.

Obergefell recently helped friends in Sandusky by running tours out of Sandusky Segwave for a few months.

He said he became friends with owners Jim Ervin and Dick Ries after visiting the business for a segway tour.

In early July, tours were canceled due to the pandemic.

In the future

Obergefell said remaining politically active has been important for him with the upcoming presidential election later this year.

He fears a conservative Supreme Court could change minority rights for the worse.

“This court is becoming more willing to overturn precedence, and that is a very concerning thing,” Obergefell said.

However, he said same-sex marriage numbers dramatically increasing has helped normalize marriage equality over the past five years.

“The otherness of that is going away, so that’s giving me hope,” Obergefell said

This article was originally published in The Morning Journal on August 11, 2020.