Plaintiff in Landmark Lawsuit Is Running for Office

Jim Obergefell's case led to decision that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 18, 2022 4:24 PM CST
Gay Rights Pioneer Obergefell Is Running for Office
Jim Obergefell speaks during the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony, July 4, 2015, in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

The lead plaintiff in the case that legalized gay marriage nationwide is planning to follow up Obergefell v. Hodges with Obergefell v. Swearingen in a run for office in Ohio. Jim Obergefell, described by USA Today as having "rock star status in LGBTQ communities," confirmed Tuesday that he is running for a seat in the Ohio legislature. He plans to run as a Democrat in the state's 89th House District, challenging Republican Rep. DJ Swearingen. The former Cleveland resident moved back to his hometown, Sandusky, from Washington, DC last year, reports the Sandusky Register.

Obergefell's road to a place in history books started in 2013, when his partner, John Arthur, was dying of Lou Gehrig's disease and they decided to get married in Maryland because same-sex marriage wasn't allowed in Ohio. After Arthur's death three months later, Obergefell sued the state for refusing to list him as the surviving spouse on the death certificate Richard Hodges, then director of the Ohio Department of Public Health, was named as the lead respondent. The case was consolidated with three other lawsuits and in 2015, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision required all 50 states to recognize same-sex marriages. "I'm not afraid of being the underdog," Obergefell says in a video announcing his candidacy.

Obergefell tells the Washington Post it was the move back to Sandusky to be near family that inspired him to run for office. "For people who want to do the right things, who are dedicated to public service for the right reasons, I just feel like it’s time for us to stand up and to run for office and to do what we can to make things better for everyone," he says. Obergefell says the landmark lawsuit taught him that Americans "are a lot more alike than we are different" and he plans to work for everyone in the district, regardless of party. "You never know where you're going to connect with someone, where you're going to find common ground," says Obergefell, who became friends with Hodges after the case. (More Ohio stories.)

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