Metro Weekly

Supreme Court gay marriage plaintiff Jim Obergefell to run for political office

Jim Obergefell is challenging an incumbent Republican for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Jim Obergefell – Photo: Obergefell for Ohio.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the landmark 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage across the country, is running for a seat i the Ohio House of Representatives.

Obergefell will run as a Democrat for the 89th House District, located in Erie and Ottawa counties, including his hometown of Sandusky.

The district is currently represented by Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron), although its contours may be changed after the Ohio Supreme Court struck down Ohio’s General Assembly maps as a violation of a 2015 voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at limiting partisan gerrymandering, necessitating a redrawing of the State House and Senate maps.

“Knowing of the corruption in the Ohio Statehouse and my experience fighting for others and fighting for what’s right, I just realized that I need to be part of making things better. I need to be part of fighting for everyone,” Obergefell told the Cincinnati Enquirer when asked about his decision to run. “I have to be part of making things better.”

Obergefell’s role as the lead plaintiff in the court case that challenged Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage, and subsequently, all laws prohibiting same-gender couples from marrying, rocketed him from relative anonymity to a key historical figure within the LGBTQ activist community.

Obergefell married his longtime partner, John Arthur, whose health was declining due to Lou Gehrig’s disease, in Maryland in July 2013 because Ohio did not recognize same-sex unions as valid. Arthur died three months after their wedding, and Obergefell sued to be listed on the death certificate as Arthur’s husband. That lawsuit sparked a legal challenge that ultimately saw Ohio’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage nullified. 

Given his national profile from the case, Obergefell would be well-positioned to raise a significant money from donors all over the United States. While the results of the May primary and November general elections will ultimately hinge on Obergefell’s stance on various issues, Obergefell will have to raise significant amounts of money to compete with Swearingen in a district that is ancestrally Democratic but has since shifted rightward during the Trump presidency, leaning 9 points more Republican than the nation as a whole.

If Obergefell were to win the seat, he would become only the second out LGBTQ official serving in the General Assembly, along with State Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood).

Obergefell, a former teacher, software consultant, and realtor, told the Enquirer he wants to focus on job opportunities for the residents of his districts, ensuring access to quality health care, and protecting Lake Erie, which he believes can be an economic driver and can provide opportunities for tourism. He also supports the Ohio Equality Act, which would explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

“I’ll put jobs and working people first so we can rebuild our communities,” Obergefell said in an introductory video on his campaign website. “Some people underestimated me and my fight for marriage equality. And that was a mistake. I don’t mind being the underdog. I’m not afraid to take on any issue when it’s the right thing to do. I’ve spent my life helping ensure everyone is treated equally with dignity and respect. And I will bring that same fighting spirit as your state representative.”

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