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Jim Obergefell reflects on 9th anniversary of Supreme Court marriage equality ruling

Jim Obergefell reflects gay marriage LGBTQ wedding celebration
Maddie McGarvey/for The Washington Post via Getty Images; Shutterstock Creative

The legendary civil rights activist will attend a White House Pride celebration on the day of the anniversary.

Cwnewser

Nine years ago today, theU.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, ushering inmarriage equality forsame-sex couples nationwide. This historic ruling not only transformed the lives of countless LGBTQ+ Americans but marked a significant moment in the ongoing fight for civil rights.

Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the case, which involved several others as well, reflects on this monumental anniversary with a mixture of pride and disbelief. “Every year, this anniversary reminds us of our journey towards equality and the continuous fight to protect what we have earned,” Obergefell shares in an exclusive interview with The Advocate. “It’s surreal to see the profound effect our case has had, not just for couples wanting to marry, but for young LGBTQ+ individuals across the country who now see a future filled with hope and dignity. It still feels surreal to me. I still find it hard to believe that I see that name on that case and decision. And it’s still weird that, yes, it’s talking about me, because it just doesn’t seem possible that I was part of something so transformative for our nation.”

Obergefell will attend aPride Month celebration at the White House Wednesday evening.

“My life has changed completely because of this," he says. "I don’t do anything that I used to do. I’ve fully embraced life as an activist and founded a business that supports organizations fighting for equality with every bottle of wine we release. I’m on boards. I’m a producer on the Just Married Project, so my life has changed dramatically because John and I loved each other and wanted to exist.”

John is John Arthur, Obergefell's late husband. They married in Maryland in 2013, when Arthur was terminally ill, because they couldn't marry in their home state of Ohio. When Arthur died, Ohio wouldn't list Obergefell as the surviving spouse on Arthur's death certificate. So Obergefell sued. His case was consolidated with others from Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee for the Supreme Court hearing.

Many people have told Obergefell how much the marriage equality ruling meant to them. “The things that I think of over the past nine years are all the people who have stopped me and told me stories, showing me photos of their loved ones, parents telling me about their kids who can now get married, couples who can now get married," he says. "And honestly, one of the most important experiences I’ve had was a young woman telling me this was just within the past year and a half, that if it weren’t for marriage equality — if it weren’t for the lawsuit — she would’ve committed suicide. But she found hope. That decision gave her a future that she had never seen before.”

Kelley Robinson, president of theHuman Rights Campaign, emphasized the ongoing importance of the Obergefell decision and the remaining challenges. “June 26 is a monumental day in LGBTQ+ history. The right to love who we love is fundamental. This day marks the anniversary of landmark Supreme Court decisions that affirmed that fundamental freedom to love,” Robinson said in a statement to The Advocate. “For decades, HRC worked with countless LGBTQ+ leaders, activists, and advocates to fight for that freedom. But MAGA backlash to that hard-earned progress is fuelingDonald Trump’s Project 2025 agenda to roll back our rights and target our freedoms. Trump has even threatened to nominate Supreme Court justices who are opposed to marriage equality. On this historic day, we celebrate the power of the fight for equality — and recommit to showing up to protect our rights and secure a brighter future for us all.”

Recent polling indicates a shift in public support for marriage equality. Sixty-nine percent of Americans support legal same-sex marriage, a figure close to the record high of 71 percent in 2022 and 2023, according to Gallup. However,Republican backing for same-sex unions has dipped below 50 percent after briefly surpassing that threshold in 2021 and 2022. Currently, 46 percent of Republicans support marriage equality, compared to 83 percent ofDemocrats and 74 percent of independents.

Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi also commemorated the anniversary on social media, highlighting its significance. “Nine years ago, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Obergefell v. Hodges to recognize the Constitutional right to marriage equality,” Pelosi wrote. “The decision was a triumphant victory for the rights and dignity of LGBTQ+ Americans and affirmed America’s fundamental values of equal justice under the law. In the face of right-wing extremist threats to legal precedent, President Biden and the Democratic Congress took action in 2022 by enacting the Respect for Marriage Act to enshrine marriage equality under federal law. As Republicans escalate their ruthless assaults on the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ Americans, Democrats will never stop fighting to protect the right of all Americans to live with dignity and pride, regardless of whom you love.”

PresidentJoe Bidensigned the Respect for Marriage Act into law in December 2022, ensuring that marriage equality for same-sex and interracial couples remains protected regardless of future Supreme Court decisions. “Today’s a good day,” Biden remarked at the signing ceremony.

Obergefell’s journey from plaintiff to activist underscores the ongoing fight for equality. His late husband, John Arthur, played a crucial role in this battle. “I think he would still, even nine years later, still be stunned at how I’ve changed, because I was always the introvert," Obergefell says. "I was the one hiding out in the corner while John was Mr. Charming talking to everybody. He never knew a stranger, and I think he would still find it hard to believe how much I’ve changed in that regard. John wanted to make a mark. He wanted to improve things for people, and it was always focused on Cincinnati, where we lived. But I think he would be thrilled and honored to know he was part of making something better for millions of people beyond anything he could have ever imagined.”

Obergefell also shared his thoughts on recent challenges, such as the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, the ruling that established abortion rights. “The Dobbs decision, number one, I can’t think of the word I want, but the fact that for the first time ever, the Supreme Court took away rights that our nation had relied on for almost 50 years, the first time they ever took away rights instead of granting rights or affirming rights. To me, that’s just disgusting. That is not what the highest court in our land is supposed to do. And then for Justice Thomas to put a target on marriage, in Lawrence the right to intimate relations and privacy of your own home, and Griswold the right to contraceptives — for him to put a target on those three decisions in his concurring opinion made me so incredibly angry.”

Reflecting on the journey and the challenges ahead, Obergefell says, “This anniversary serves as both a celebration of progress and a call to action, reaffirming the commitment to protect and advance LGBTQ+ rights in America.”

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).