The two men who gave their names to the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality decision are coming together to oppose Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the high court.
Jim Obergefell, the Cincinnati man who sued the state of Ohio for the recognition of his marriage, and Rick Hodges, who then headed the Ohio Department of Public Health, will hold a Zoom press conference Tuesday to discuss their opposition to Barrett.
Family Equality is organizing the event, which is open to anyone interested and will also include three senators — Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Patty Murray of Washington, and Ron Wyden of Oregon — and Family Equality Interim CEO Denise Brogan-Kator.
Donald Trump’s nomination of Barrett to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an equal rights champion who died in September, has many people worried about the fate of rights established in landmark rulings, including marriage rights for same-sex couples, nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people, and abortion rights.
Barrett, an ultraconservative federal appeals court judge and former law professor, was evasive during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, saying she can’t speak to how she would rule on specific issues. She is on record, however, as criticizing the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, as she has suggested marriage equality should have been decided by legislatures state by state. The committee is expected to vote on her nomination Thursday, after which the full Senate would vote on whether to confirm her to the court.
Two current conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, recently said they would like to see Obergefell overturned. There is no marriage equality case pending in lower courts at this time, but their comment essentially invited a challenge.
The Obergefell case consolidated marriage equality cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, but Jim Obergefell was the named plaintiff. He married his terminally ill partner, John Arthur, in 2013 in Maryland, which allowed same-sex couples to marry, but Ohio did not recognize their marriage and would not list Obergefell as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate (Arthur died a few months after the marriage). The Department of Public Health issues death certificates, so Hodges was the named defendant, even though he opposed the discriminatory policy and had little to do with the case.
“And I found it humorous, the quandary I was in, because I did have an obligation to defend [the policy], but I hoped we lost,” Hodges said last year in an episode of the public radio program StoryCorps Columbus, recorded in Ohio’s capital city.
“You were never in the courtroom,” Obergefell said to Hodges in the episode. “You weren’t even involved, really. You were just the name.” The two men ended up becoming friends.
On the program, Obergefell also said that the fight for recognition of his marriage helped keep his husband’s memory alive. “I got to talk about the most important person in my world,” he said. “And I also got to talk about his loss turning into this amazing step forward for LGBTQ rights in our nation.”