How an amazing gay couple's devotion changed same-sex marriage forever

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A Legacy of Devotion at Supreme Court

By ALEXIS BENVENISTE

While Americans have been fighting for same-sex marriage for quite some time now, the story of one incredibly inspiring gay couple truly changed the course of the Supreme Court ruling.

Ohio residents, John Arthur and Jim Obergefell met and fell in love in their late 20s, but their path as a couple has been far from easy. During their time together, John was suffering from ALS, and at age 48, he passed away from the disease.

The couple's love for each other was infectious. John's aunt Paulette recalls there relationship as one with "100 percent devotion." She said, "I think the relationship between John and Jim was very much one fulfilling the other."

In June 2013, the Windsor decision was released, where the Supreme Court restricted America's federal interpretation of "marriage" and "spouse," allowing it to only apply to heterosexual marriages.

Jim Obergefell vividly remembers the day that the Windsor decision was officially released, and that day ended up changing his life forever. He recalls: "I leaned over to John in his bed, hugged him and kissed him, and said 'Let's get married.'"

Although the courthouse was only six blocks away from John and Jim, they were unable to get married there because Ohio did not allow same-sex marriage. "We had to figure out how to get married and where to get married and how to get John there safely because he was bed-ridden due to ALS," Jim said.

In an effort to try to make things work, Jim posted something on his Facebook page, hoping that a family member or friend would know someone who worked for a medical charter jet company. The responses were filled with love and were absolutely overwhelming. "Immediately, my family and friends started commenting," he said. "Through their generosity, they covered the entire $13,000 cost of the medical jet."

The couple flew to the Baltimore Washington International airport because after January 1, 2013, same-sex marriage was legal in Maryland. Transporting John was very difficult, and it became very clear that his condition was worsening and his days were numbered. Because of his immobility, John's aunt Paulette officially married the couple on the tarmac at the airport. John's aunt Paulette recalls the very personal moment lovingly. She said, "Who could possibly find anything to be against with these two beautiful men so devoted to each other for 20 years?"

Jim remembers the days after the wedding as days that were filled with love. "We probably used the word 'husband' a couple hundred times a day because it just felt good," he said. The couple had no idea what kind of impact their marriage would end up making both on the gay community and on the world.

A mere four days after they officially married, the couple was introduced to a civil rights attorney who made sure to discuss death certificates. For the gay couple, the certificate would be blank for the 'surviving spouse section' and it would state that the couple was not married.

Al Gerhardstein, the couple's civil rights attorney said, "I mean, the last document that says to the rest of the world, 'I'm a person. I was married and this is the man I loved' would be wrong." Jim recalled the devastation that he felt upon learning that this was the case. The couple filed suit against both the state of Ohio and the city of Cincinnati, asking for Jim to be listed as the surviving spouse.

Although a human rights ordinance was passed in 1993 saying that it was illegal to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, the city charter was amended, stating that gay people couldn't have rights against discrimination. Cincinnati came to be known as an 'island of intolerance," but thankfully, the law was repealed in 2004.

Cincinnati has made amazing strides since then, declaring the day of Jim and John's marriage as "John Arthur and Jim Obergefell Day."

John's initial concern was that he would be unable to help his husband because of his condition. People questioned Jim's actions, wondering why he was spending his time and energy on their rights as a couple as John's time was dwindling. Jim's response was,



Jim said, "Even now, knowing that John would die three months later, I would make the same exact decision."

The funeral director that worked with Jim, Robert Grunn, served as a plantiff for the case, which was a huge deal because he physically dealt with the death certificates. When taking care of gay couples at the funeral home, Robert had to list the deceased as a friend instead of a spouse. "When I would write 'friend' on the death certificate as opposed to 'spouse', it felt incomplete," he said.

Once Jim found out that the case was going to the Supreme Court, everything changed. "He was with me in the Supreme Court room, and later that same day when I walked out of the building and down the steps and the crowd roared, that was the moment that I've missed John the most since he died," he said.

Not only has Jim done an incredible job of carrying on John's love and legacy, but his relationship with John has inspired both the gay community and America as a whole. Today, their devotion is even more evident as the Supreme Court officially ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide.

For more coverage, visit NYTimes.com

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