Lead Plaintiff in Historic Gay Marriage Case Announces Ohio State House Campaign

·4 min read
Jim Obergefell
Jim Obergefell

Craig Barritt/Getty Images Jim Obergefell

Jim Obergefell — one of the plaintiffs in the historic Obergefell v. Hodge case — on Tuesday announced his campaign to be a state representative in Ohio, the same state where he first filed a lawsuit to try to force the court to recognize him and his late husband's union.

That suit would eventually make its way to the Supreme Court, which in 2015 ruled in their favor, ensuring the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the country.

"Running for office has been in the back of my mind since shortly after the decision," Obergefell, 55, tells PEOPLE. "People had started saying, 'You should run for office.' An elected official even told me, 'When people urge you to run, please consider it.' So it's been in the back of my mind for six and a half years now, I guess."

Obergefell officially launched his campaign in a video posted to Twitter Tuesday, drawing on the "history-making fight for legal rights" that made him a national name in LGBTQ rights.

"I don't mind being the underdog," Obergefell, who will run as a Democrat for the state's House of Representatives, says in the ad. "I'm not afraid to take on any issue when it's the right thing to do. I will bring that same fighting spirit as your state representative."

Obergefell is seeking the a seat in Ohio's 89th House District currently held by Republican D.J. Swearingen, an attorney.

"The state of politics — with how divisive it is is — is part of what encouraged me to do this," Obergefell says. "The thought that maybe I can be part of making that better. It is a little scary, to think about jumping in to politics at this time. But I jumped in to a Supreme Court case because it was the right thing to do. This, I think of in the same way: it's the right thing to do."

A native of Sandusky, Ohio, and the youngest of six, Obergefell mounted a a national legal fight in 2013, shortly after he married his partner, John Arthur. As Ohio didn't legally recognize same-sex marriage at the time, the two men exchanged vows in Maryland instead.

When Arthur died just three months later from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), Obergefell sued Ohio to recognize the marriage, which would allow him to be listed on the death certificate as Arthur's husband.

The case eventually made its way to the Supreme court and, in a five-four ruling on June 26, 2015, the court found in Obergefell's favor, striking down all state bans on same-sex marriage and legalizing it in all 50 states.

Though the case ultimately involved several plaintiffs, Obergefell was listed as the lead — giving him a place in the history books.

"Some people underestimated me in my fight for marriage equality, and that was a mistake," Obergefell says in the new campaign ad, saying he's ready to take on the "big job" of state representative by creating jobs, focusing on education, and ensuring a "clean and healthy" Lake Eerie.

RELATED: The Man Who Changed America: Jim Obergefell Tells PEOPLE Gay Marriage Ruling Made Him Feel 'Like an Equal American'

In an open letter published shortly after the same-sex marriage ruling was announced in 2015, Obergefell lamented the fact that his husband wasn't there to celebrate alongside him, but acknowledged the recognition and "respect" other same-sex couples would enjoy from that moment forward.

"Couples across America may now wed and have their marriage recognized and respected no matter what state they call home," he wrote in the letter. "No other person will learn at the most painful moment of married life, the death of a spouse, that their lawful marriage will be disregarded by the state. No married couple who moves will suddenly become two single persons because their new state ignores their lawful marriage."

He continued: "I can finally relax knowing that Ohio can never erase our marriage from John's death certificate, and my husband can now truly rest in peace."

Speaking to PEOPLE, Obergefell admits that theres a tinge of the bittersweet in announcing his run, all these years after losing his husband — though he admits he thinks about him daily.

"He's never far from my thoughts," Obergefell says, adding with a laugh: "If I told him I was launching a campaign, I think he would look at me and say, 'Jim, have you lost your mind?"

He continues: "And then he would say, 'I will absolutely support you in this. But you deal with the limelight.' "