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Federal Judge Strikes Down Utah’S Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

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The US Attorney General published his thoughts on civil rights for gays and lebians in an OPED piece:

Taking the side of equality

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/03/02/same-sex-marriage-eric-holder-column/24225305/

Eric H. Holder

1 day ago

Craig Mitchelldyer for USA TODAY

Over the next several months, the Supreme Court will decide whether state restrictions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. As the court considers that momentous question, the Department of Justice will make clear that our answer is an unequivocal "yes."

This week, the Justice Department will file a brief setting forth our position that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the fundamental constitutional guarantee of "equal protection of the laws." It is clear that the time has come to recognize that gay and lesbian people deserve robust protection from discrimination.

Nothing justifies excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. Denying them the right to marry serves only to demean them and their children, to degrade the dignity of their families and to deny them the full, free and equal participation in American life to which every citizen is entitled.

Marriage bans inflict concrete harms that touch nearly every aspect of daily life for gay and lesbian couples. The bans intersect with issues as varied as workers' compensation, taxation and inheritance, posing challenges to basic financial security. Same-sex couples living in states with bans too often face obstacles to adopting and raising children together. And restrictions on medical decision-making and hospital visitation impose devastating burdens during the moments when a partner is needed most.

The mental and emotional injuries are just as acute. A marriage ban written into state law broadcasts the state's view that same-sex couples and their children are second-class families, undeserving of the rights and protections offered to opposite-sex couples.It creates a stigma that pervades society, encouraging individuals to harass or belittle even their loved ones because of pressures brought by their community. And it harms relationships between family members by perpetuating a destructive notion that some individuals — and some children — should be shown less love and support simply because of who they are. That is a view the Department of Justice flatly rejects. And with our brief, we will make clear that the United States stands firmly on the side of equality.

Marriage equality is an idea whose time has come. When I took office as attorney general in February 2009, only two states,Massachusetts and Connecticut, allowed same-sex couples to marry. But a seismic shift over the last six years has pushed that tally to 37, leaving fewer states with same-sex marriage bans in force today than there were with interracial marriage bans in 1967 when the Supreme Court deemed them unconstitutional.

I am proud to have had the opportunity not only to watch this great national pivot, but to take part in it. In 2011, I recommended to President Obama that the Department of Justice no longer defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which excluded gay and lesbian couples from federal marriage benefits. In my view, DOMA was indefensible, and the Supreme Courtvindicated that position in a landmarkdecision in 2013. I will always be proud of the role that the Justice Department played in achieving and implementing that victory, which has driven a surge of court decisionssecuring marriage rights in states from coast to coast.

Of course, our work is not complete until every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendercitizen has achieved equal footing and equal treatment under the law. One need only witness the bliss of a newlywed gay or lesbian couple, and see their beaming children, to know that, at last, we are correctly answering a historic question. And now that the Supreme Court is considering whether the Constitution guarantees marriage equality nationwide, we have our clearest opportunity yet to mark the defining civil rights struggle of our time with triumph — a triumph of our highest ideals, our deepest values and our self-evidentfounding promise: that all are created equal.

Our nation's founders set this country on a course of continual improvement toward a more perfect union — a spirit that echoes in our present-day promise to struggling gay and lesbian youth that "it gets better." America, by design, gets better, and we have been fortunate over the last few years to witness once-unimaginable progress with respect to gay rights. But we're not done yet. And in the coming months, this administration — and this Department of Justice — will continue to stand with all LGBT Americans, to hold fast to our principles, and to bring about the change our citizens deserve.

Eric H. Holder Jr. is the attorney general of the United States.

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And the amicus briefs begin with a huge surge of support from the banking and business industries...

Hundreds of Big Companies Urge Supreme Court to Back Gay Marriage

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-05/from-goldman-to-google-companies-back-gay-marriage-in-supreme-court-brief

Apple, BlackRock, General Electric, and many more — 379 in all, as of Wednesday night — ask the high court to strike down bans

by Paul Barrett

6:00 AM MST March 5, 2015

Large businesses from Main Street to Wall Street are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down laws banning same-sex marriage.

In a friend-of-the-court brief expected to be filed on Thursday, hundreds of banks and other corporations argue that states that still prohibit gay unions “hamper employer efforts to recruit and retain the most talented workforce possible in those states.”

The justices will hear oral arguments on the push for marriage equality in late April. The court is expected to rule by late June.

Major companies and financial institutions previously have backed the campaign to recognize same-sex unions, so the brief isn’t a surprise. What’s impressive is that as of Wednesday night, 379 corporations and employer organizations had signed on to the amicus brief, representing industries from technology to financial services, transportation to consumer products, retail to restaurants to sports.

Among those that signed on: Aetna, Alcoa, Amazon.com, American Airlines, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Barclays, BlackRock, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Capital One, Cardinal Health, Chubb, Cigna, Cisco, Citigroup, Colgate-Palmolive, ConAgra, Corning, Credit Suisse Securities, CVS Health, Delta Air Lines, Deutsche Bank, Dow Chemical, EBay, Facebook, General Electric, General Mills, GlaxoSmithKline, Goldman Sachs, Google, Hartford Financial Services, Hilton, HSBC, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase, Kimberly-Clark, KPMG, Levi Strauss, Marriott, Marsh & McLennan, Massachusetts Mutual, McKinsey, Microsoft, MillerCoors, Morgan Stanley, Nationwide Mutual, the New England Patriots, New York Life, Nike, Northrop Grumman, Office Depot, Oracle, Orbitz, Pandora, PepsiCo, Pfizer, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Procter & Gamble, Prudential, Qualcomm, RBC Capital Markets, the San Francisco Giants, Staples, Symantec, the Tampa Bay Rays, Target, TD Bank, Twitter, UBS, United Airlines, Verizon, Walt Disney, Wells Fargo, and Zynga.

Bloomberg LP, owner of Bloomberg Business, also signed the brief.

In friend-of-the-court briefs, the Supreme Court permits interested parties not directly involved in a case to offer their views.

Written by the management-side employment law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, the amicus brief strikes a pragmatic tone. With 37 states allowing gay marriage and the rest banning it, employers face costly uncertainty and administrative complexities, the brief argues. “The burden imposed by inconsistent and discriminatory state laws of having to administer complicated schemes to account for differential treatment of similarly situated employees breeds unnecessary confusion, tension, and diminished employee morale.”

Just last fall the Supreme Court sidestepped the gay marriage controversy when it declined to review cases arising from federal appellate panels in Chicago, Denver, and Richmond, Va. Each of those lower courts had ruled that the constitutional guarantee of “equal protection” covers same-sex couples seeking to wed.

Then a panel in Cincinnati went the other way, declaring that gay couples do not have a fundamental right to marry. That created a conflict among lower courts. Resolving such conflicts is one of the main reasons the Supreme Court agrees to hear cases. In January the justices said they would use disputes involving gay couples from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee to announce a nationwide rule.

As of this morning, business has cast its vote.

Marriott...Walt Disney... and a veritable who's who in business.

Practically everyone except Hobby Lobby and A Chick-fil-a! ;)

I wonder if the church will file an amicus brief, as well...

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I wonder if it is possible for any gay youth, regardless of societal norms, to feel that all is well in the world.  I know that humanity can become calloused and stop feeling the Spirit, but when does the Spirit stop talking?

 

How does one reconcile knowing that you are the way God created you and yet know that sexual expression is beyond the parameters that God has instituted?  

 

I do believe that a life of celibacy is achievable; sexual urges can be controlled.  However, living such a disciplined life is beyond what many individuals desire.  Is such a disciplined life for everyone?  I don't think so; I think it is for those who are true disciples of Christ and willing to forsake all for him.  

 

Most of us are willing to sacrifice some things, but we are not willing to sacrifice all things for God.  We draw lines and then we abandon the ways of righteousness and seek our own will, to satisfy our own desires whatever they may be.  We are willing to go only so far and then we go no further unless we totally surrender to God's will.  

 

Some of us will lie, some of us will cheat, some of us will not be loyal, some of us will not life a life of honor, some of us will commit adultery, some of us will steal, and some of us will satisfy those sexual appetites that are forbidden by God whatever they may be.  At the this point is where we can draw a line where our love for God ceases and our love of self commands.  

 

At the most fundamental level, we each decide how much of a disciple of Christ we are willing to be.  

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I wonder if it is possible for any gay youth, regardless of societal norms, to feel that all is well in the world. I know that humanity can become calloused and stop feeling the Spirit, but when does the Spirit stop talking?

How does one reconcile knowing that you are the way God created you and yet know that sexual expression is beyond the parameters that God has instituted?

I do believe that a life of celibacy is achievable; sexual urges can be controlled. However, living such a disciplined life is beyond what many individuals desire. Is such a disciplined life for everyone? I don't think so; I think it is for those who are true disciples of Christ and willing to forsake all for him.

Most of us are willing to sacrifice some things, but we are not willing to sacrifice all things for God. We draw lines and then we abandon the ways of righteousness and seek our own will, to satisfy our own desires whatever they may be. We are willing to go only so far and then we go no further unless we totally surrender to God's will.

Some of us will lie, some of us will cheat, some of us will not be loyal, some of us will not life a life of honor, some of us will commit adultery, some of us will steal, and some of us will satisfy those sexual appetites that are forbidden by God whatever they may be. At the this point is where we can draw a line where our love for God ceases and our love of self commands.

At the most fundamental level, we each decide how much of a disciple of Christ we are willing to be.

At its core, marriage is the antithesis of selfishness, asking us to love someone more than ourselves and putting their needs above our own.

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At its core, marriage is the antithesis of selfishness, asking us to love someone more than ourselves and putting their needs above our own.

 

I know this is a derail of the thread, but it is interesting.  This point hinges on the eternal value of the procreative function of male and female. When the process is limited, when it is impossible to result in progeny, what is its value?  

 

To introduce the "but we love each other" concept only clouds the issue.  I propose that true love seeks what is eternally best for the other.  In this context, self-love, homosexual love, is always stunted.  We may want for it to be different, for it to be an equivalent of heterosexual love, but it is not.  Only one yields progeny naturally while the other is an imitation.

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I know this is a derail of the thread, but it is interesting.  This point hinges on the eternal value of the procreative function of male and female. When the process is limited, when it is impossible to result in progeny, what is its value?  

 

To introduce the "but we love each other" concept only clouds the issue.  I propose that true love seeks what is eternally best for the other.  In this context, self-love, homosexual love, is always stunted.  We may want for it to be different, for it to be an equivalent of heterosexual love, but it is not.  Only one yields progeny naturally while the other is an imitation.

 

We've been around about this before but your point hinges on our understanding of the eternal procreative function.  There's a lot of disagreement regarding how much clarity exists on that topic.  Since I don't believe we have any real understanding of how to create spirit children, I am not willing to condemn a group of our brothers and sisters based on what I view as speculation.  I will continue to pray for further light and knowledge (through the prophet) on the matter.

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The Department of Justice filed it's brief with SCOTUS:
 

Obama Administration Urges Nationwide End To Same-Sex Marriage Bans
http://www.buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/obama-administration-urges-nationwide-end-to-same-sex-marria?utm_term=.fbWkN68g1E#.uidgDgXLN

“There is no adequate justification for such a discriminatory and injurious exercise of state power,” the Obama administration urges the Supreme Court. More than 200 congressional Democrats also weigh in to support marriage equality.

Originally posted on March 6, 2015, at 3:22 p.m.
Updated on March 6, 2015, at 5:32 p.m.

Chris Geidner

BuzzFeed News Reporter

Carolyn Kaster / AP

WASHINGTON — The United States government on Friday urged the Supreme Court to strike down state bans on same-sex couples' marriages across the country, concluding, "There is no adequate justification for such a discriminatory and injurious exercise of state power."

The filing in the cases challenging bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee represented nearly the end of a long path for the Obama administration on the issue, which began with President Obama opposing marriage rights for same-sex couples and his administration defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

In May 2012, though, Obama announced his support for same-sex couples' marriage rights — helping to change the national landscape on the issue in the months before voters in three states voted for marriage equality measures at the polls.

On Friday, the Justice Department — which stopped defending the constitutionality of DOMA in February 2011 — told the Supreme Court, "The marriage bans challenged in these cases impermissibly exclude lesbian and gay couples from the rights, responsibilities, and status of civil marriage. These facially discriminatory laws impose concrete harms on same-sex couples and send the inescapable message that same-sex couples and their children are second-class families, unworthy of the recognition and benefits that opposite-sex couples take for granted."

Showing how far the law has traveled in a few short years, the brief goes on, "The bans cannot be reconciled with the fundamental constitutional guarantee of 'equal protection of the laws.'"

Specifically, the administration noted, "The President and Attorney General have determined that classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny." That decision, made when the administration shifted gears on DOMA in 2011, would — if adopted by the Supreme Court — mean that laws and governmental policies that classify people based on sexual orientation should be viewed by courts with additional skepticism.

For example, laws that classify people based on race only survive court review if they are narrowly tailored to advance a compelling governmental interest. Laws that classify based on sex, for the example most advocates expect also would be applied to sexual orientation claims, must be advance an important governmental interest in a way that is substantially related to that interest. Without any such heightened scrutiny, laws must only be rationally related to a legitimate government interest.

"Heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause is particularly appropriate in the context of legal barriers to marriage," the administration argued on Friday. "A State should be required to present an especially strong justification for a law that excludes a long-disadvantaged class of persons from an institution of such paramount personal, societal, and practical importance."

Because, the administration argues, none of the claimed reasons supporting the bans meet that heightened scrutiny, they should fail.

In 2013, when California's Proposition 8 was before the justices, the administration took a similar position — but offered the court a limited ruling that only would necessarily result in striking down marriage bans where the state otherwise offered same-sex couples all of the benefits of marriage — but not the name itself. That argument held little water during oral arguments, with Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. facing tough question on the middle-ground position from both ideological sides of the bench.

This time, the administration placed no such limit on its argument, stating that all such bans are "incompatible with the Constitution."

It went even further than that, though, arguing that "heightened scrutiny" isn't even necessary for the court to strike down the bans because the "reasoning and result" of the Supreme Court's decision striking down DOMA in United States v. Windsor "strongly support the conclusion that the bans at issue here are likewise unconstitutional." The administration notes that the justice found DOMA unconstitutional after reviewing "that law with 'careful consideration."

Looking at the Supreme Court's history since the mid-1990s in cases addressing gay rights, the administration lawyers write, "The marriage bans at issue here, like the [Colorado] law invalidated [in 1996] in Romer v. Evans," should be fund to be unconstitutional because they "'impose[] a broad and undifferentiated disability' on lesbian and gay people with a 'sheer breadth ... so discontinuous with the reasons offered' that they violate equal protection."

In addition to the Obama administration's brief, more than 200 congressional Democrats, led by each chamber's Democratic leader, filed an amici curiae brief supporting a marriage equality ruling from the court.

Other briefs supporting marriage equality have been coming in over the course of the past week. The states' briefs defending the bans are due March 27, supportive amicus briefs due by the next Friday, and the oral arguments in the case are set for April 28.
 

The conclusion of the Obama administration's brief:

 

The manner in which conclusion of the Obama administration's brief concludes, and characterizes the endurance and applicability of the Constitution, is interesting given some comments on other threads that the recognition of equal civil rights for LGBT citizens is the beginning of the prophesy that the Constitution will "hang by a thread":

 

"As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom."  Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 579.  A "prime part of the history of our Constitution is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded."  VMI, 518 U.S. at 557.  Here, petitioners seek the "duties and responsibilities that are an essential part of married life," Windsor, 133 S. St. at 2695,  that opposite-sex couples, and tens of thousands of same-sex couples, already enjoy.  The laws they challenge exclude a long-mistreated class of human beings from a legal and social status of tremendous import.  Those laws are not adequately justified by any of the advanced rationals.  They are accordingly incompatible with the Constitution."

 

(bold added)

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The Supreme Court's official blog has an interesting analysis of the Department of Justice's Amicus Brief:

U.S. joins fight for same-sex marriage

http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/03/u-s-joins-fight-for-same-sex-marriage/#more-225840

Posted Fri, March 6th, 2015 6:46 pm by Lyle Denniston

The Obama administration, urging the Supreme Court to adopt for the first time a more rigorous test of laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians, on Friday joined in the plea to give same-sex couples equal access to marriage. In a thirty-six-page brief, the government argued that state bans on such marriages cannot survive the new test it proposed.

The brief was limited to defending same-sex marriage under an “equal protection” standard, leaving unmentioned the other constitutional argument that some challengers to state bans have made: that marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be closed to such couples, a “due process” argument.

The brief was part of a sizable stack of friend-of-the-Court briefs that were sent to the Justices on the couples’ side of the constitutional debate. The states defending their bans will have a chance to reply, and the four cases — from Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee — will be heard by the Justices on April 28.

As of now, same-sex marriages are legal in thirty-six states, as a result of state laws, voter-approved ballot measures, and a lengthy list of federal and state court rulings. If the couples win their appeals, same-sex marriage would be available nationwide, capping a very fast-moving gay rights revolution.

The government’s new filing, signed by U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., and other Justice Department officials and staff lawyers, sought to persuade the Court to embrace a constitutional test that this administration has been pressing for some time in gay rights cases.

It called for what is known as “heightened scrutiny” — the middle level of three ascending tests for judging claims that laws discriminate on the basis of a forbidden personal trait. The easiest standard to meet is “rational basis,” and the toughest is “strict scrutiny.”

Under the middle level, a law that is challenged as discriminatory can be upheld only if it serves an “important government objective” and its terms are “substantially related” to such a policy goal.

In a series of decisions in recent years that have added to gay rights, the Supreme Court has never specified an explicit standard for use in the field of sexual orientation. At times, it has seemed to adopt something like “rational basis-plus,” but it has never given a specific definition of the test or tests it has used.

The lower court ruling that the Supreme Court is reviewing in the new marriage cases, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, refused to apply a heightened test. It upheld the marriage bans in the four states in its region largely because it said the issue of defining who has access to marriage is one that is assigned to the people as voters, or to the legislatures of the states. “Who chooses,” it said, was the key question.

The Sixth Circuit also said that it was bound to uphold a ban on same-sex marriage, because of a one-line ruling by the Supreme Court in 1972 — without briefing or oral argument — rejecting a plea of a same-sex couple in Minnesota to wed. That was the summary ruling in Baker v. Nelson.

The Obama administration’s new brief did not challenge that precedent head on, but simply noted that it was not binding on the Supreme Court itself, whatever lower courts may have thought about its controlling effect. That precedent, it said, had little impact on the new cases, which the Court is reviewing under full-scale review, with briefs and oral argument.

Moreover, the brief said the Baker decision did not address the same issues that are now before the Court about same-sex marriage and, besides, it predated most of the Court’s modern gay-rights rulings.

In seeking to make a case for the Justices to apply a more demanding constitutional test for the same-sex marriage bans, the government brief cited the four rationales that have been put forth to justify such a test: Those seeking such protection must show a history of discrimination against their group; their sexual orientation has nothing to do with their ability to take full part in society; their sexual orientation was a part of their inherent identity; and they are a specific group that has limited political power in seeking to promote its aims.

Gays and lesbians satisfied all four of those factors, the brief argued. It added: “Heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause is particularly appropriate in the context of legal barriers to marriage. A state should be required to present an especially strong justification for a law that excludes a long-disadvantaged class of persons from an institution of such paramount personal, societal, and practical importance.”

The new filing sought to rely heavily upon the favorable comments that the Supreme Court made about existing same-sex marriages two years ago in United States v. Windsor, striking down a part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act on the premise that it discriminated against those couples whose marriage were allowed under their state laws at that time.

Those favorable comments, the brief argued, should apply as fully to those same-sex couples who now seek to get married, but are banned from doing so by the current laws of their home states, as well as to those who cannot get official state recognition for their existing marriages.

In arguing that those laws, prohibiting marriage licenses for same-sex couples who have not yet married and refusing to recognize the marriages of those who have wed elsewhere, the government brief said it was not necessary for the Court to conclude that those bans were passed out of a hostility (“animus”) toward gays and lesbians.

Even though the Supreme Court in theWindsor decision had relied in part upon its perception that “animus” had played a part in Congress’s passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, the new brief commented:

“It is unnecessary to characterize those who voted for the laws at issue here as having acted out of conscious ill will in order to recognize the laws’ inconsistency with the fundamental guarantee of equal protection.”

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An update from Puerto Rico:

March 20, 2015 | by Michael K. Lavers

Puerto Rican government to no longer defend marriage ban

http://www.washingtonblade.com/2015/03/20/puerto-rican-government-to-no-longer-defend-marriage-ban/

The Puerto Rican government on Friday announced it will no longer defend the U.S. commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban.

“Because of sexual orientation, Puerto Rico has denied rights that others enjoy,” said Justice Minister César Miranda during a press conference in San Juan. “This is not correct.”

The announcement coincides with a brief Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s administration will file with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which is hearing a lawsuit against the island’s same-sex marriage ban.

García had previously defended the gay nuptials prohibition.

“The government of Puerto Rico finally recognizes that denying marriage to LGBTT people is discriminatory and cannot be justified,” said Omar González-Pagan of Lambda Legal, which is representing the five same-sex couples in the lawsuit against the U.S. commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. “Same-sex partners, LGBTT people and their families are part of the rich Puerto Rican culture and society. The actions taken on this day complete the constitutional promises of justices and equality for LGBTT people in Puerto Rico.”

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born in Puerto Rico, and also applauded the government’s announcement.

“We applaud and thank Gov. Alejandro García Padilla and his administration for choosing to be on the right side of history in terms of marriage equality,” she said in a statement she released with LGBT members of the New York City Council.. “His change of position is heartening. Puerto Rican LGBT families should be afforded the same rights, responsibilities and respect as the rest of the families.”

The Washington Blade will provide additional information and reaction as it becomes available.

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The Supreme Court case is drawing nigh....

The Washington Post profiled the titular couple from the four cases....

 

It's well-worth a read:
 

How Jim Obergefell became the face of the Supreme Court gay marriage case

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/how-jim-obergefell-became-the-face-of-the-supreme-court-gay-marriage-case/2015/04/06/3740433c-d958-11e4-b3f2-607bd612aeac_story.html

By Michael S. Rosenwald April 6  

CINCINNATI — Jim Obergefell cannot fathom hearing his name mentioned alongside Brown or Roe.

For one thing, he knows people will mispronounce it. (It’s Oh-ber-guh-fell.) And he never wanted to be the face of a movement or a legal groundbreaker.

“I’m just Jim,” he said. “I just stood up for our marriage.”

It was not a long marriage, just three months and 11 days — the time it took his husband, John Arthur, to struggle to say, “I thee wed,” and then die from ALS. Now their union, and the 20-year relationship that preceded it, is at the center of Obergefell v. Hodges, the title case of four consolidated appeals the Supreme Court will hear this month to decide whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.

For Obergefell, the case is simply about that tricky-to-pronounce name: He wants it on Arthur’s death certificate as the surviving spouse, an idea the state of Ohio, where same-sex marriage is illegal, opposes. Should Obergefell win, history books will probably take a more expansive view of his quest.

“If the Supreme Court decides in favor of full marriage equality, it will be the largest conferral of rights on LGBT people in the history of our country,” said Fred Sainz, vice president of communications at the Human Rights Campaign. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Jim will become a historic figure.”

How Obergefell, a soft-spoken real estate broker with little previous interest in political activism, wound up in this spot is a story of judicial chance, but it’s also about resolve, fate and heartbreak. The court will hear arguments on April 28 concerning the four cases, but because Obergefell’s suit has the lowest case number, the court, per its tradition, has lumped everything under his legal citation.

That means Oh-ber-guh-fell could become as famous as Brown (the lead plaintiff in the historic school desegregation decision) or Roe (the pseudonym for Norma McCorvey in the case that legalized abortion nationwide) simply because his case number is 14-556, not 14-562 or 14-571 or 14-574.

“On one level, I get it,” he said, sitting next to his attorney in a downtown office tower. “But it hasn’t sunk in on an emotional level. I get it. But I don’t.”

Walking around Cincinnati, Obergefell is sometimes greeted with spontaneous hugs. People thank him. They wish him good luck. And as the hearing approaches, Obergefell finds himself emerging as a national public figure.

The Human Rights Campaign put him on the cover of its magazine. It is flying him around the country for speaking engagements — not just because his name is on a landmark case but also because his story, advocates say, perfectly symbolizes what the fight has always been about.

Arthur was essentially on his deathbed when the couple decided to marry. He could no longer walk. Speaking was difficult. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which attacks the body’s motor neurons, was rapidly destroying his body. Obergefell stayed at Arthur’s bedside. Their friends had to beg him to leave the house to take a break.

In their two decades together, the couple talked about marriage but never considered it seriously. They didn’t want it to be symbolic. They wanted it to have legal weight, just like the marriages of their heterosexual friends. But in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, giving same-sex married couples federal benefits in the states where such unions were legal.

Obergefell saw the news online. He leaned over, kissed Arthur on the head and said, “Let’s get married.”

“Okay,” Arthur said.

Their wedding was a production. Obviously, they needed to travel to a different state, choosing Maryland on a friend’s suggestion. But how to get there? A car trip was out. A medical flight was their only option, but how could they arrange one, much less come up with the $13,000 to pay for it? Obergefell sought advice on Facebook. Their friends and family offered more than guidance — they offered cash, sending them money via PayPal, funding the entire trip.

And so on the morning of July 11, 2013, an ambulance transported them to the airport, where they boarded a medical jet with a nurse and Arthur’s aunt, Paulette Roberts, who became ordained online to perform weddings. They flew to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. Roberts began the ceremony on the tarmac, in the plane, shortly after landing. The couple held hands, Obergefell’s thumb rubbing Arthur’s. They stared into each other’s eyes.

“With this ring,” said Obergefell, slipping a ring on Arthur’s hand, “I thee wed.” Then he gently helped Arthur guide a ring onto his own hand. 

Jim Obergefell was married to John Arthur on a medical jet in Maryland shortly before Arthur died of ALS. Afterward, Obergefell had his wedding band fused with Arthur’s. (Maddie McGarvey/For The Washington Post)

“With this ring,” said Arthur, his speech distorted by ALS, “I thee wed.”

And then they kissed, husband and husband.

“If marriage vows mean anything,” Roberts later said, “then those two were more married than anyone I have ever known.”

‘It’s who you are’

It was, they often joked, love at third sight.

The early 1990s. A bar called Uncle Woody’s, near the University of Cincinnati. They met there once — no love connection. They met there again — no love connection. They met the third time at a mutual friend’s party.

“And then I never left,” Obergefell said.

Arthur was Obergefell’s first serious boyfriend. Obergefell grew up in northern Ohio, the youngest of six in a Catholic family. By the time he came out in his mid-20s, Obergefell’s mother was deceased. He told his oldest sister first. He called her one evening and said he wanted to take her to dinner. There was something important to discuss.

“My kids said, ‘He’s gonna tell you he’s gay,’ ” Ann Hippler remembered.

They sat down at dinner. He took her hand and said, “I need to tell you something.”

“What?” his sister asked. “That you’re gay?”

Obergefell was stunned.

“It doesn’t bother me,” his sister told him. “It’s who you are.”


Jim Obergefell holds a photo of him and his late husband, John Arthur, in his condo in Cincinnati. (Maddie McGarvey/For The Washington Post)

The rest of his family was similarly unsurprised and unperturbed.

Arthur had a more difficult time. While his mother and brother accepted him, Arthur’s father, with whom he had a strained relationship, didn’t find out until several years later.

“Once my dad was able to put his mind to it, I think it was okay,” Arthur’s brother Curtis said.

Jim and John. John and Jim. They were inseparable. They moved in together not long after they began dating. They worked together in IT consulting and client relations management at a series of companies, their desks sometimes only inches apart. They rehabbed old houses. They bought paintings by local artists. Obergefell was the more serious, reasonable one. Arthur was, as his brother put it, “highly, highly charismatic,” with a biting sense of humor.

One day in the winter of 2011, Obergefell noticed Arthur’s left foot slapping the ground as he walked. Then he started falling. It became difficult for him to get into their small Volkswagen. Arthur went to their family doctor, who referred them to a neurologist. The diagnosis: ALS. They got a second opinion: ALS.

“Learning what it meant,” Obergefell said, choking up, “was devastating.”

 

By summer, Arthur was walking with a cane. The cane turned into a walker. The walker turned into a manual wheelchair. The manual wheelchair turned into a motorized wheelchair. The couple could no longer stay in their two-level condo. They moved into a one-level condo in Cincinnati’s hip Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

 

By early 2013, Arthur was confined to bed. Hospice care started. Arthur was never angry. He never asked, “Why me?” Obergefell did those things.

 

“But it was hard to be angry,” Obergefell said, tears streaming down his face, “when I saw him being so good about it.”

 

And then they got married.

 

There was no honeymoon, of course. And a few days after they wed, an old neighbor mentioned their situation to Al Gerhardstein, a local civil rights attorney.

 

“I knew right away they had a problem,” Gerhardstein said. “And I knew they probably weren’t thinking about it. Who thinks about a death certificate after getting married?”

 

Obergefell met with Gerhardstein, who told him they needed an injunction saying he should be listed as the surviving spouse on the death certificate. They filed a lawsuit a few days later. A federal judge ruled in their favor, a decision so controversial that a Republican state lawmaker called for the judge’s impeachment.

 

Arthur died a few months later. Their victory and a subsequent ruling in court were not theoretical: Obergefell’s name was listed as the surviving spouse. But Ohio appealed to a higher court, arguing that, if successful, officials should be able to reissue a death certificate without Obergefell’s name.

 

The state won. Obergefell appealed to the Supreme Court. If the justices don’t rule in his favor, it’s likely that new death certificate will be issued.

 

“We need to protect their interest for posterity, for the end of time,” Gerhardstein said. “For many people, marriage is some kind of theoretical thing. There are so many ways that this case is about marriage, about that enduring commitment.”

 

‘It keeps John alive’

 

Today, Obergefell lives alone in the couple’s condo, among dozens of paintings hanging on nearly every inch of wall space. Arthur is there, too, his ashes in a box tucked away in a safe place. In the TV room, a large painting of the couple hangs above the couch. They are young and in love and smiling at a beautiful old cemetery where they used to take long walks.

 

In the corner of the room are several stacked volumes of bound legal documents — copies of the “People’s Brief” that Obergefell delivered to the Supreme Court in support of his case. Several volumes list supporters who signed the brief, which calls for full marriage equality. Obergefell has marked pages where his friends’ names appear.

 

Jim Obergefell gathers photos of his late husband in his condo in Cincinnati. (Maddie McGarvey/For The Washington Post)

 

The apartment is quiet, even though Arthur wanted Obergefell to date again after he was gone, to find love with someone else.

 

“I can’t picture that,” Obergefell said. “I just can’t.”

 

He got their wedding rings fused, and now two rings are one on his left hand. At some point, Obergefell will spread Arthur’s ashes in the water off the Outer Banks in North Carolina, where they have a house. He is not emotionally ready yet.

 

He keeps in touch with his husband at night, before he falls asleep. “I tell John about my day,” he said. Those days are becoming busier with awards and public appearances and more recountings of their love story.

 

“Getting ready for my first time speaking at a university!” he posted on Facebook the other day.

 

Obergefell finds the idea of becoming a public figure both foreign and exhilarating. What it’s all really about, he said, is “continuing this fight for John, for the promises I made. It keeps John alive. It’s my way of honoring and protecting him.”

 

And he keeps reminding himself about what his fight is really about — the death certificate, the title of spouse — even as he feels the growing pressure of a monumental civil rights moment.

 

“It’s hard to put into words,” Obergefell said, “how to grasp that our decision to stand up and say, ‘This isn’t right,’ is going to affect so many people.”

 

It’s Oh-ber-guh-fell.

 

April will no doubt be a historic month.

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