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Commentary: Hearing threat to Roe vs. Wade, I thought of my gay marriage -- and Jim Obergefell's fight

Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

"John was that person who would walk into a room, and by the time he left he would have met every person at the party, while I was standing in a corner thinking, 'Can't we just go home?' " Jim recalled with a laugh.

But that would change. John would get sick. The unfairness of the nation's laws for gay couples — including those facing death — would hit home, and Jim felt something rising up in him.

"I want to be part of the fight," he told me the first time we spoke in 2013, when I was a Baltimore Sun reporter with a self-appointed side beat covering LGBTQ issues.

Jim and John lived in Ohio at the time, but I became aware of them that summer when with the help of friends and family they chartered a private jet specially outfitted with medical equipment to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport to get married.

At the time, same-sex marriages were legal in Maryland but not in Ohio. The jet was necessary because John, who was battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, could travel only under special conditions.

There on the tarmac, they wed and then flew home. "For once in our 20 years together, we really feel like full Americans," Jim told me shortly afterward. In just a few months, John was dead at age 48.

 

Two years later, I spoke to Jim again, about his and John's legal challenge to have their Maryland marriage recognized by Ohio, including on John's death certificate. The case by then had wound its way up, along with several other same-sex marriage cases, to the Supreme Court, and was poised to win marriage rights for same-sex couples across the country.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine something like this could happen," Jim told me about his and John's case taking on so much national importance. He also said how dearly he missed John.

I was just shy of my 30th birthday at the time, had been single nearly my entire life, and marriage still seemed a far-off proposition for me. But I knew I wanted it one day, and I recognized the profound gift that Jim and so many other LGBTQ activists were giving to me and other queer people of my generation by fighting so hard to make marriage a possibility for us.

When Obergefell indeed became the law of the land, making same-sex marriages legal nationwide, I was proud to have told Jim and John's story early on.

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