Event: Obergefell v. Hodges (Same Sex Marriage) Supreme Court Decision (June 2015)
Overview: Jim Obergefell and John Arthur were in a committed relationship in 1992 living in Cleveland, Ohio. They bought a house together, had careers and enjoyed their lives for 20 years. Arthur was diagnosed with a terminal disease and Obergefell wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse on the death certificate. The state would not allow this until they were legally married.
Action: Learn more about the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution and why it is important for civil rights in history. Think about other LGBTQ couples or individuals have taken stands against discrimination, bullying and harassment. How do you ensure that all people are treated fairly in your family and in your school?
Questions: Why was this court case important in history? What does this court case say about relationships?
Jim Obergefell was born in 1966 and grew up in Northern Ohio, the youngest of six in a Catholic family. He built a career in the IT business and real estate fields. John Arthur was born in 1965 in Chicago, earned his degree from the University of Cincinnati and worked in benefits and project management for a number of companies.
Obergefell and Arthur met in 1992 and soon formed a committed relationship living in Cincinnati, Ohio. They spent the next 20 years living and working in the area, working in IT consulting, rehabbing old houses and purchasing paintings by local artists. In 2011, Arthur was diagnosed with an incurable form of ALS. In October 2013, after learning of the Supreme Court decision, U.S. v. Windsor, Obergefell and Arthur decided to fly to Baltimore, Maryland to get married (same-sex marriage was not legal in Ohio at the time). Together, they knew that Arthur would die in the near future and wanted to ensure they could be buried next to each other and Arthur wanted Obergefell to be listed as the “surviving spouse” on his death certificate. However, Ohio law would not allow same-sex couples to have this right. They filed an injunction so that Obergefell could be listed as the “surviving spouse” and a U.S. District Federal Court Judge agreed. Obergefell was listed on Arthur’s death certificate when he died on October 22, 2013. The State of Ohio, with the guidance of Richard Hodges, the director of the Department of Health, appealed the decision to a higher court and got the decision reversed.
The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014. In 2015, the Supreme Court consolidated four same-sex marriage cases into one – Obergefell v. Hodges (Ohio), DeBoer v. Snyder (Michigan), Bourke v. Beshear (Kentucky), and Tanco v. Haslam (Tennessee)—and agreed to review the case.
The Court ordered written briefs and oral arguments on the following questions:
- Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
- Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
The case gained much national attention and had 148 amici curiae briefs submitted, more than any other U.S. Supreme Court case. In June 2015, the court rendered their decision in support of same-sex marriage by a vote of 5-4. Jim Obergefell could then officially be listed as surviving spouse on his partner, Jim Arthur’s death certificate.
- Video (Obergefell Story. 4 minutes. April 2015)
- Read and Listen to: Supreme Court Arguments (April 2015)
- Article: Gay Marriage in the U.S., After Obergefell v. Hodges (The Atlantic, June 2016)