Jim Obergefell on the Past and Future of the LGBTQ+ Movement

The Kennedy Political Union is starting out the 2019 Fall Semester strong by bringing Civil Rights Activist, Jim Obergefell to campus. This event is meant to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which marks the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ movement.

Jim Obergefell is most well known for being the plaintiff in the 2015 landmark supreme court case in which same-sex marriage was legalized, Obergefell vs Hodge. This case strikes happiness and celebration for members of the LGBTQ+ community, but Obergefell’s journey to the Supreme Court was sparked by tragedy. 

At the event, Obergefell told the audience the story of how he became an accidental activist. Jim Obergefell had been committed to his partner, John Arthur for 22 years. In 2011, John Arthur was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal and debilitating illness. Knowing they did not have much time left together, in 2013, Obergefell and Arthur traveled to Maryland to get married legally. When Arthur died later that year, the state of Ohio refused to recognize the marriage on John Arthur’s death certificate, which was the beginning of Jim Obergefell’s legal battle that would end in the federal legalization of same-sex marriage. 

While it is clear Obergefell is energized by his past love and experiences, he makes it obvious that his future activism will always be fueled by his love for John Arthur and his promise to protect him. Obergefell answered a question about the future by explaining he tries to be optimistic because "that's what John would do." 

Despite the threat that the Trump administration poses to the LGBTQ+ Community, Jim Obergefell makes it clear that 2019 is a better time to be queer than there has ever been. In the four years since the Obergefell vs Hodges decision, he recognizes that public attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community have become more positive because of the normalization marriage equality provides to LGBTQ+ identities. Obergefell is an advocate of learning about the historical movements and struggles that got civil rights to the place they are today, in 2019. 

"I learned that one person or group really can change the world," Jim Obergefell. 

At the same time, Obergefell recognizes this particular political moment as a "double-edged sword." Although public attitudes have positively shifted, there are still threats due to the conservative presidential administration and what that means for the court system. Jim Obergefell is most worried about cases about religious refusal laws becoming more prevalent and increased violence against trans women of color. 

In the face of injustice and discrimination, Jim Obergefell is hardly one to stay silent. He gave the audience a call to action: get involved with local organizations that fight for the causes you are passionate about and vote for candidates that support the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of LGBTQ+ people. Finally, Obergefell ended on a note of inspiration, "I learned that one person or group really can change the world."