Gay rights icon Jim Obergefell will run for Ohio House seat

·3 min read

CINCINNATI - Gay rights icon Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the landmark 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage across the country, is running for a seat in the Ohio House.

Obergefell, a Democrat, moved back to his hometown of Sandusky in 2021, putting him in the 89th House District, held by Republican D.J. Swearingen.

Even if the district lines change through redistricting, Obergefell said he wants to serve his hometown of Sandusky in the Legislature.

"Knowing of the corruption in the Ohio Statehouse and my experience fighting for others and fighting for what's right, I just realized that I need to be part of making things better. I need to be part of fighting for everyone," Obergefell said. "I have to be part of making things better."

Given his national profile, Obergefell would be well-positioned to gain attention and raise serious money for his campaign.

Jim Obergefell poses for a portrait on Thursday, June 25, 2020, at Goodale Park in Columbus, Ohio. Obergefell was the plaintiff in the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.
Jim Obergefell poses for a portrait on Thursday, June 25, 2020, at Goodale Park in Columbus, Ohio. Obergefell was the plaintiff in the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.

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In July 2013, Obergefell married John Arthur, who was gravely ill. Because Ohio at the time didn’t allow same-sex unions, the couple flew from their home in Cincinnati to Maryland to exchange vows.

Arthur died three months later, and Obergefell sued to be listed on the death certificate as Arthur’s husband. That case was among multiple cases involving dozens of plaintiffs argued together, but Obergefell was the lead plaintiff, meaning the case bore his name.

Following the 5-4 ruling, Obergefell received rock star status in LGBTQ communities.

Related: Ohio LGBTQ advocates push for non-discrimination law but say divisive politics are getting in the way

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nationwide there are 568,000 same-sex married couples, including 31,500 in Ohio.

If Obergefell wins the seat, he would be one of just a handful of openly gay politicians to serve in the Ohio General Assembly.

Obergefell is a former teacher, software consultant, Realtor and longtime Cincinnati resident. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati and holds a master's degree from Bowling Green State University. Although he lived most of his adult life in Cincinnati, in recent years he moved back to his hometown of Sandusky to be closer to family.

If elected, Obergefell said he wants to focus on job opportunities for residents of Erie and Ottawa counties, access to quality health care and protecting Lake Erie, which he noted is a natural treasure and economic driver.

And, of course, he said he would fully back the Ohio Equality Act, which would explicitly prohibit discrimination in jobs, housing and public places based on sexual orientation or gender equality. The bill has failed to win approval, despite being introduced in every legislative session for more than a decade.

When asked what his message is to gay Ohioans who don't feel the state is welcoming, Obergefell said: "I understand why people might be worried about Ohio when it comes to that but just keep the faith. You'll have people like me fighting for you in the statehouse to make it better."

Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Jim Obergefell, same-sex marriage plaintiff, will run for Ohio office