Equality Florida to honor Jim Obergefell,
Supreme Court marriage plaintiff
Obergefell v. Hodges was the case that settled
marriage equality once and for all
July 22, 2015
Jim Harper, Media/Communications, 727-388-3636, [email protected]
On behalf of couples everywhere, Equality Florida will give its highest honor, the Voice For Equality Award, to Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision affirming the freedom to marry throughout the United States.
The announcement was made Wednesday evening at an Equality Florida event at Rosie’s Bar and Grill in Wilton Manors. The award will be given at the organization's annual Broward Gala on Sunday, November 15, 6pm to 9pm, at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six in Fort Lauderdale.
"The fight for marriage equality has been borne and carried by many people, including many of us here in Florida," said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida. "We are thrilled to honor the man whose love, courage and persistence helped win this victory once and for all."
“It is an honor to accept this award and I feel humbled to be at the forefront of this important decision furthering equality for the LGBT community,” said Mr. Obergefell from his home in Cincinnati. “While this decision was an important one we still have a long way to go. This historic decision should fuel our efforts to ensure global equality for our entire community, and I invite you to join me as we continue this journey for positive change.”
Obergefell married his partner of 20 years, John Arthur, on July 11, 2013. Two weeks earlier the Supreme Court had struck down key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, paving the way toward marriage equality -- at least in some states.
Because Ohio did not recognize same-sex marriages, the couple needed to travel to a state that did. The trip was especially difficult, because Arthur was in the final stages of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Friends and family raised the $13,000 needed for a medical jet, and the couple was wed on the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington Marshall International Airport. They were accompanied by a nurse and by Arthur’s aunt, Paulette Roberts, who performed the ceremony. Obergefell placed a ring on Arthur’s finger, then gently helped Arthur guide another ring onto his own.
In a moving account published later in the Washington Post, Roberts said, “If marriage vows mean anything, then those two were more married than anyone I have ever known.”
Three months and 11 days later, Arthur was gone, and Obergefell began the struggle to have himself listed as surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. Ohio law required that Arthur be described as “single.”
A lower court agreed with Obergefell, but the state appealed and a divided federal appeals court became the first in the country not to rule in favor of marriage for same-sex couples.
Eventually, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Obergefell’s case as well as three others from Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan. In some ways, the fact that his name appeared in the title of the consolidated case was a matter of chance -- just as other last names, like Brown or “Roe,” became attached to complicated cases leading to landmark decisions for human rights.
But marriage advocates say his and Arthur’s story exemplifies the meaning and reason behind marriage equality as well as any other.
As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be … excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law….
People interested in sponsoring or buying tickets for the November Gala may contact Row Iliescu at 305-335-2102, or [email protected].