Prizm News / October 5, 2018 / By Prizm News

 

Here’s his full induction speech for the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame: ‘Demanding equality for all is the most American action we can take.’

 

By Prizm News

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On Thursday, Oct. 4, Jim Obergefell became the second LGBTQ Ohioan inducted into the state’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame. Here is his speech, delivered during a ceremony at the Statehouse in Columbus:

I’m honored to accept this wonderful recognition, and I do so in loving memory of my late husband, John, and with gratitude to the other plaintiffs and attorneys, especially Al Gerhardstein, who fought by my side for marriage equality all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. 

My five siblings and their spouses have long been examples of loving, committed relationships…and I’m grateful to them for that, and for always keeping me proud of them, and honest. 

Growing up in Sandusky and living in Cincinnati, I never dreamed my name and face would become shorthand for a landmark civil rights case. I never thought I would be inducted into any hall of fame, let alone one for civil rights. Yet here I am, and in very good company. 

I’m here because I was fortunate to fall in love and to have John love me in return. Thanks to the Windsor decision [in 2013] striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, we married in our 21st year together as John was dying of ALS. We finally had the opportunity to marry and have the federal government acknowledge our existence. 

But because of Ohio’s version of the Defense of Marriage Act, our lawful marriage would not exist on John’s last record as a person, his death certificate. He would die a single man, and my name would not be listed as his surviving spouse. 

We certainly didn’t plan to become activists. We simply had that most human of desires: to love someone, to commit to them, and to have that relationship treated with respect. We decided to fight for each other and our marriage. We wanted our marriage, our relationship, to exist. To matter. 

Although Obergefell v. Hodges brought marriage equality to all 50 states, our marriages and relationships are still not equal. In Ohio, a same-sex couple who exercises their constitutional right to marry on Saturday can be fired on Monday and lose their home on Tuesday because Ohio has no statewide anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.  

And Ohio’s not the only state. 

People are currently demanding the right to deny service in public businesses to same-sex couples celebrating marriage. Organizations want the legal right to deny adoption to same-sex couples and more, all an attempt to deny equal participation in society to one group of people. 

The Constitution of the United States starts with the words, We the People. For much of our nation’s history, those words have rung hollow. Think about the native Americans, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community. These are just some of the groups who’ve been excluded from We the Peoplegroups who have been denied rights. Will our nation ever learn? 

That’s why I believe that every minority group must fight for equality for every other minority group. The twisted justifications for denying rights to one group are recycled in later years to deny rights to another, and in the wise words of our attorney, Al Gerhardstein, “The surest way to abridge the rights to a minority is to allow the majority to vote on them.” 

We the People means all of us. Equal justice under law applies to all of us, not just those who write the laws. Demanding equality for all is the most American action we can take, whether that’s speaking up on behalf of others, working to change outdated societal norms, or fighting legalized discrimination. 

And yes, sometimes that means taking your governor and attorney general to a court of law to demand something that they’re supposed to want for all the people of their state. 

I look forward to the day our nation lives up to those ideals of We the People, equal justice under law, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Until then, I’m glad there are people who refuse to be quiet, who refuse to accept anything less than full equality.  

And I’m glad there are organizations like the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. I’m honored to join this prestigious group of people who believe in Wthe People. 

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com