Prizm News / October 4, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
Jim Obergefell speaks inside the atrium of the Ohio Statehouse on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. He was one of six Ohioans inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame. (Photo by Travis Painter)

‘Growing up in Sandusky and living in Cincinnati, I never dreamed my name and face would become shorthand for a landmark civil rights case,’ he says.

 

By Bob Vitale 

With a tribute to his late husband, love to his brothers and sisters, thanks to the attorney who argued his case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Jim Obergefell was inducted Thursday into to the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame for his place in history as man whose legal fight resulted in nationwide marriage equality.

“We certainly didn’t plan to become activists,” the Sandusky native and former Cincinnati resident told people gathered for a Statehouse induction ceremony. “We simply had that most human of desires: to love someone, to commit to them and to have that relationship treated with respect.”

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“We decided to fight for each other and our marriage,” Obergefell said. “We wanted our marriage, our relationship, to exist. To matter.”

Obergefell and John Arthur were together for 21 years when they married in July 2013 inside a medical airplane on an airport tarmac in Baltimore. Arthur was dying of ALS.

They married weeks after a June 2013 Supreme Court ruling that required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in marriage-equality states. They learned after coming home to Cincinnati that their marriage wouldn’t be honored in Ohio, where a constitutional amendment restricted marriage rights.

Obergefell and Arthur—with Cincinnati attorney Al Gerhardstein and other plaintiffs—sued the state and won in federal court. Attorney General Mike DeWine and Gov. John Kasich won on appeal and argued against marriage equality when the case reached the Supreme Court in 2015.

Justices ruled, 5-4, in favor of nationwide marriage equality on June 26, 2015.

U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley of Columbus, who delivered the keynote address at Thursday’s ceremony, called Obergefell vs. Hodges one of the landmark cases of our time.

“I told (Jim Obergefell) it’s not often as a judge that I get to meet a litigant rock star,” he said.

Obergefell said he never sought the spotlight.

“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,” Obergefell said Thursday.

“I’m here because I was fortunate to fall in love and to have John love me in return.”


Read Jim Obergefell’s complete speech for his induction into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

(Click here.)

 

Obergefell was one of six Ohioans inducted into the state’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame this year. Others are:

  • Dr. Errol D. Alexander, another Sandusky native whose first advocacy for civil rights came through letters to the editor of his local newspaper at age 14.
  • The late Dr. Joseph Carter Corbin of Chillicothe, who duringReconstruction movedto Arkansas where he founded what is now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
  • Jo Ann Davidson, a native of Findlay who represented Reynoldsburg in the Ohio General Assembly and served as Ohio’s first (and still only) House speaker.
  • The late William Powell of Minerva, who opened and owned the first integrated golf club in the country, Clearview Golf Club in East Canton.
  • Renee Powell of East Canton, who shared her father’s love of golf and was one of the first African American women to compete on the sport’s professional tour. She owns and operates Clearview Golf Club today.

Obergefell is the second LGBTQ Ohioan to induction into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Rhonda Rivera, who has been called the matriarch of the LGBTQ civil rights movement in Ohio, was inducted in 2010.

 

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