Gay rights activist campaigning for Ohio State House after Supreme Court win

Above, Jim Obergefell tearfully celebrates Supreme Court victory. Obergefell announced his candidacy for Ohio State House on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lucinda Judd | Assistant Business Manager

Gay rights activist James “Jim” Obergefell, best known as the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case that certified marriage equality, announced Tuesday that he is running for Ohio State House.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement to Flyer News.

A Sandusky native, Obergefell is running for office in the 89th District of Ohio which holds Erie and Ottawa counties. He will be running against Republican incumbent D.J. Swearinger who took office in 2019.

Obergefell’s campaign is focused on the recovery and protection of Lake Erie. Additionally, he wants to increase job opportunities to keep families in Erie and Ottawa counties. 

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell’s name came into public light during the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges that resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage. Obergefell sued the state of Ohio in 2013 when his husband, John Arthur, died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Obergefell was not recognized on the death certificate. He alleged that Ohio was discriminating against same-sex couples by not recognizing their marriage, even though that marriage occurred in a state in which it was legal.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Obergefell in 2015, saying the states that did not recognize same-sex marriages were in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Several other cases were consolidated with Obergefell resulting in Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee also having to recognize same-sex marriages in the same way they do opposite-sex marriages.

After the case closed, Obergefell lived in D.C. to continue his LGBTQ+ activism, co-authored a book called Love Wins, officiated weddings and made a wine company that donated profits to civil rights organizations. Obergefell returned to Ohio after a few years, living in Columbus before returning to Sandusky.

He told The Washington Post his main motivation for running was the time he spent with his family after moving back to his hometown. Obergefell said he doesn’t “mind being the underdog.”

“For people who want to do the right things, who are dedicated to public service for the right reasons, I just feel like it’s time for us to stand up and to run for office and to do what we can to make things better for everyone,” he said. 

The University of Dayton community has a diverse student body including a number of LGBTQIA+ students. Spectrum is an organization on campus that seeks to provide a community for LGBTQ+ students, spread awareness, and advocate for LGBTQ+ issues both on and off-campus.

“As an organization, it is nice to see such an important LGBTQ+ figure running for office. Having seen a lot of different anti-LGBTQ+ policies being introduced nationwide but especially within Ohio, we are hopeful that Obergefell will take a stand against this homophobic and transphobic legislation,” Spectrum said in a statement from to Flyer News.

Spectrum President Elizabeth Gallagher ’22 added to the statement saying she was hopeful as well, but without seeing more of Obergefell’s policies she remains cautious.

“If he is not working to reform many different social issues that affect different identities he will not be fighting for all LGBTQ+ people,” Gallagher said. Until we can be sure his activism and views are intersectional as well I am remaining optimistically cautious.”

With the primaries coming up in March and the general election for the Ohio House in November, Obergefell remains a candidate to watch.

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