Love Wins: the Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality
by Debbite Cenziper and Jim Obergefell
What started as a fight to be acknowledged as the surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate became a Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 making same-sex marriage legal---and recognizable--- in all fifty states. Jim Obergefell and John Arthur fell in love twenty years ago and lived with the constant knowledge that their home state, Ohio, would not recognize their relationship and they might even be subjected to harassment or discrimination. John was diagnosed with ALS and was nearing the end of his life in 2013 when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government must afford married same-sex couples the same benefits as those with traditional marriages. Jim and John flew to Maryland, were married aboard a chartered medical aircraft, John on a gurney and flew back to Ohio husband and husband. It was only when they began attending to the details of John’s certain and imminent death that Jim realized the state of Ohio would life John as “single” on his death certificate and in John’s death, Jim would all but vanish, legally, from John’s life. Meeting civil rights advocate and attorney Al Gerhardstein changed everything: Al represented Jim who sued for widower’s rights, specifically acknowledgement on the final document that book-ended John’s life. Al quickly realized the narrow scope of the suit (which they won) and sought to broaden it when he became aware of the fact that many states did not only not permit same-sex marriage, they would also not allow both same-sex parents to adopt a single child, nor in the case of a woman who gave birth to a child, the right for her wife to adopt the child, leaving the children essentially parent-less if the custodial parent were to die. As family after family emerged, Al began to get a fuller appreciation for the magnitude of families living “under the radar” just to be a family. John never lived to see the landmark 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states, but his legacy, and love for Jim, lives on. Debbie Cenziper, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist has told Jim and John’s, and hundreds of others’, story with frank compassion and clarity making this account part memorable love story as well as the course of events leading up to the first landmark case of the twenty-first century.