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Jim Obergefell wins fight in U. S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage case

Jim Obergefell is the lead plaintiff in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that will likely decide whether same-sex marriage is legal throughout the country.
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio

Updated on June 26 with news of ruling  — Todayin a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution required states to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in that case, sat down to talk with St. Louis on the Air three weeks before the decision was handed down. 

Our original story.

Nearly two years after Jim Obergefell married John Arthur, his long-time partner, the fight for their marriage to be legally recognized continues. Arthur died in 2013 of ALS, just a few months after they were married on the tarmac of an airport in Maryland.

The two lived in Ohio, where gay marriage is not legal. As a result, Obergefell, who is the lead plaintiff in a U.S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage case, cannot be listed on his husband’s death certificate. The decision in the case is expected later this month.

Along this journey, Obegerfell carries a part of Arthur with him in his wedding ring.

“In some ways, I’m really happy our arguments were heard in late April because at least that meant it was only two months I had to wait for a decision,” Obergefell said. “I am optimistic, but I also know that I can’t count my chickens. This court could do something that surprises me.”

Obergefell and Arthur sued the state of Ohio when they learned from a civil rights attorney that Obergefell could not be listed on Arthur’s death certificate after he died. “It’s a mix of the right to marry, and the right to have those lawful marriages recognized,” Obergefell said.

A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO (Promoting Equality for All Missourians), also joined Marsh to discuss the status of same-sex marriage in Missouri. Same-sex marriage is recognized in St. Louis and St. Louis County, and Jackson County (Kansas City).

State and federal courts have issued several same-sex marriage rulings in Missouri.  In October 2014, a judge in Kansas City ruled that the state had to recognize the marriage licenses of same-sex couples who were legally wed in other states. Attorney General Chris Koster chose not to appeal that ruling.

About a month later, a judge in St. Louis determined that the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. Two days later, on November 7, 2014, a federal judge reached the same conclusion.

Koster has appealed both of those cases to higher courts. The federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Missouri Supreme Court are waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on Obergefell’s case before hearing oral arguments in the Missouri cases.

“We still don’t have things such as Social Security benefits and things like that,” Bockelman said. “I think that the biggest win will be when those more tangible benefits are extended to same-sex couples.”

Obergefell stated that he has received an outpouring of support along his journey. “Even in my city of Cincinnati, there’s been a sea change of opinion,” he said. “Cincinnati for years was considered one of the most unfriendly places in the country for the LGBT community. That’s changed completely.”

“If marriage equality comes to the entire U.S. at the end of the month, I think we all know it will become a political football yet again,” Obergerfell said. “Certain candidates will hold that up as evidence of the decline of American society while other candidates will hold it up as an example of our country living up to the ideals of the Constitution.”

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Obergefell’s case, the decision will be likened to other historical cases, such as Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education.

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
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