Most of us first heard the name Obergefell back on June 26, 2015. This was the date the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage. Many of us couldn’t believe our eyes and ears when we turned on the news that day to find gay marriage has been legalized?! Indeed the Supreme Court ruled on the Obergefell v. Hodges case (5–4) that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
This landmark civil rights case launched the plaintiff, Jim Obergefell, into the national spotlight. What started as a challenge to the State of Ohio to be listed as a spouse on his husband’s death certificate, eventually turned into the Supreme Court case that resulted in gay marriage becoming the law of the land. This also resulted in Jim Obergefell dubbing himself an “accidental activist.” How has this evolved over the past seven years?
I’ve since embraced the role and would describe myself as a much more purposeful activist. Seeing the impact on the nation has been incredible and I was changed by it as well. And we need to keep fighting to make things better.
Your name is back in the news again. After Roe v. Wade was recently overturned, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that justices “should consider all of the Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” This could significantly impact our privacy, due process and equal rights.
First of all, what a dark day for women to no longer have decision rights over their bodies. Personal freedoms are at the root of our democracy. What a terrible thing to lose. And with this Supreme Court all other rights are at risk.
Also, I find the statement from Justice Thomas to be appalling! It’s quite ironic that he’s calling these civil liberties into question. If it weren’t for the ruling on the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, his marriage to Ginny Thomas, a white woman, would be illegal. Members of a certain political party claim to be “pro-family” but are not willing to take a stand on the Respect for Marriage Act. Cowards! If you’re pro-family, you should protect it and respect it.
On the activism front, we need to be out there and be loud to protect what we have. This also means taking every ballot and legislative measure possible.
When we spoke in 2019, I asked about your political future, and it didn’t seem to be in the plans. What changed?
At an event to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Brian Sims, the first openly-gay person elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, planted the seed. He told me people would start asking about my political ambitions. [Representative Sims was right.] He advised me not to say no, and to think about it. And I did.
During the Covid pandemic, I moved back to my hometown of Sandusky, Ohio. My five siblings, nieces and nephews all live in the area. Shortly after my move, I had lunch with Chris Redfern, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, who posed the question, “What do you think about running for the Ohio State House?” I came to the conclusion that it’s the right time and the right place.
Of the Ohio House of Representative’s 99 reps, two thirds are republican – a super majority. What do you hope to accomplish and how difficult will it be?
The issues facing Ohio’s 89th District are similar to many areas of the country – they want good paying jobs and opportunities. Locally, we’ve lost so many manufacturing jobs. People want to work and earn a living wage. Other important issues to me are expanding health care (it’s a human right), raising minimum wage, keeping tax dollars in public schools and not funding private religious schools, supporting alternative energy as well as promoting transparency and honesty in government. The Ohio State House is known as one of the most corrupt in the country. I will be a voice in the State House for the marginalized community. I would be the only queer representative in the House.
Tell me about life on the campaign trail. What’s been your experience?
I’ve had the joy of people hosting fundraisers to support my candidacy. I often hear that I “do the right thing” and people want to support that. I go door-to-door to talk to people to find our what matters to them. And I encourage them to call me directly – yes they have my mobile number.
My opponent, D.J. Swearingen (R), is an incumbent who is not well liked and won’t engage in town hall meetings or debates. We are at opposite ends of most issues, including his recent support of the Transgender Athlete Ban, which included a provision for a “genital inspection!”
In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, do you think we’re more likely to see higher voter engagement in this year’s election? What’s your message to voters?
People are angry. This loss of personal freedom is a terrible government overstep and has become a voting issue. Post Dobbs ruling, Ohio has seen the 7th highest new voter registrations in the country. It’s come down to saving democracy. We have the Supreme Court that we do because people didn’t vote. There’s so much at risk. The only way we can prevent the loss of democracy is if everyone votes.
People should care and vote at all levels – federal, state, and local. Look at what’s happening at a state level with “Don’t Say Gay” and with local school boards banning books. I encourage everyone to vote for those candidates with whom your values align.
Six years ago, Obergefell co-founded Equality Vines, the worlds first cause wine portfolio, with Matt Grove. Equality Vines partners with organizations dedicated to equality by making a per-bottle cash donation directly to the cause. Has this new venture made an impact?
I’m pleased to report that we’ve made direct contributions of over $250,000 to our partner organizations. We not only support gay causes such as SAGE (Senior Advocacy for Gay Elders) but organizations to promote women’s rights, racial equality, and immigrant’s rights. In addition to the financial contributions, we’ve also raised awareness of these causes. www.EqualityVines.com
What would Obergefell think if I told him ten years ago that he’d be a nationally recognized American civil rights leader, author, candidate for the Ohio State House of Representatives and co-owner of a wine business?
First, I’d think you’ve been drinking. [Laughs] Then I would say never in my wildest dreams.
Last modified: October 3, 2022