MARYVILLE, Mo. — The lead plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges case gave a presentation Tuesday night that described the events that led to the legalization of same-sex marriages in the U.S. to Northwest students and faculty.
Jim Obergefell, of the 2015 Supreme Court case, gave his personal history and described his emotions during the period that led to the landmark decision. Speaking to a crowd of about 120 people in person and livestreamed (due to COVID-19 restrictions), he said the June 26, 2015 ruling changed how he felt about being a citizen.
“For the first time in my life as an out, gay man, I finally felt like an American,” Obergefell said.
A little over five years ago, Obergefell still can recall his initial reactions and feelings of overwhelming joy felt by many on the Obergefell v. Hodges decision day.
“The air was electric — people were singing, they were cheering, they were crying and as they saw us and recognized us and realized who we were, the crowd just parted before us,” Obergefell said. “We made our way through that crowd as people were hugging us, cheering us on, high-fiving us, and singing.”
Obergefell began his journey of accidental activism following the death of his late partner of over 20 years, John Arthur. Arthur was diagnosed with ALS during their 19th year together and would soon pass away. Their fight for their same-sex marriage began before Arthur’s passing, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 23, 2013, in the United States v. Windsor case. After the state of Ohio would not recognize their marriage, Obergefell became the face of the case for marriage equality that went to the Supreme Court.
“I felt guilty, because it wasn’t just John’s and my story,” Obergefell said. “I wasn’t the only plaintiff in this case. I was one of more than 30, and every one of those plaintiffs had a story that was equally as compelling as ours. It was my name, my face plastered across the airwaves and in print.”
Levi Bradley, the leader of the Northwest student organization Helping Everyone Regardless of Orientation (HERO), was able to attend the event online as part of one of his classes. He said having Obergefell speak and personalize the case was important for more than just the gay and lesbian community.
“Not just LGBTQ folks, but also for people who aren’t aware of that struggle or that emotional struggle,” Bradley said. “It helps people understand a little bit why something like that was so important.”
Obergefell drove home his most important message of the night.
“Stories matter,” Obergefell said. “Stories really can change hearts and minds, and I think the face that John’s and my story is a story of love and loss, really had an impact because everyone has loved someone. And our story made the fight for marriage equality real.”
Brady Netzel is a junior studying graphic design and advertising at Northwest Missouri State University.