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Love wins: The man and the author behind SCOTUS' same sex-marriage case


Jim Obergefell, one of the plaintiffs in the landmark same-sex marriage case - SUBMITTED
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  • Jim Obergefell, one of the plaintiffs in the landmark same-sex marriage case

Jim Obergefell's name was a shot heard around the world. He became famous when he and his partner sued Ohio; not for the right to be married, it was far more bleak. They were suing to have Jim listed on his terminally ill husband's death certificate. John Arthur had ALS and died in 2013. Though they won the case, Jim hasn't stopped working. He has since written a book called Love Wins, explaining in detail what their battle was like. We spoke with Jim before his upcoming talk at Indy Reads.

NUVO: What is next for you when it comes to advocacy work?

Jim Oberfell: Right now I’ve been so focused on the book over the past few months, I haven't really planned ahead on advocacy other than to continue to do what I have been doing. Which is getting more involved in the fights and efforts to address LGBTQ youth homelessness. In Cincinnati I have gotten involved with some programs there … I just continue to speak out in support of the transgender community. They are the most at risk part of our community and they need as many allies as they can get…

NUVO: Did you ever anticipate that this is what you would be doing?

Obergefell: Never in my life. Never in my wildest dreams. Yeah, it's absolutely unexpected and surprising, and I feel really fortunate that I ended up
in this spot.


NUVO: Tell me about the process of writing the book and when you realized it should be a written narrative.

Obergefell: For the first year or so after John died people said over and over, "You should write a book, you should write a book." But I was still fairly deep in my grief and dealing with that. Writing a book wasn't something I could seriously consider or put any effort toward. As I started to heal and I started coming out of my grief and my mourning phase people kept saying that and especially when the Supreme Court accepted the case, that was happening over and over ... I started to think about it and realized, yeah, there is a narrative here. It is a landmark decision and there is kind of a good story here. The thing that really made it happen was getting a call from Debbie, my co-author, out of the blue saying, "Jim, I have a literary agent who has been pressing me to write a book. And I didn't want to do that until it was a story I am passionate about. So what do you think? Do you want to write a book together?" ...

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NUVO: What was it like for you personally writing that and working through all of those memories? I was astounded at the level of detail that you were able to add from scenes in the courtroom.

Obergefell: For me one of the best things about it was realizing, and I have known this for years, that my memory tends to be of the forest, not the individual trees. But Debbie had this fantastic way of pushing me, asking questions and digging deeper. What was the weather like? What were you wearing? What color was the wall? Things that I wouldn't have necessarily thought of myself. She really helped me pull out those details which were there, but I didn't realize that they were there. For me, the conversations, the writing, I certainly cried a lot, I smiled a lot, I laughed a lot. Writing the book was one more added layer that helped me heal, helped me work through my grief and helped me work toward feeling happy again. It was a really good process for me. ...

NUVO: In hindsight what are your favorite parts of the book to go back and read?

Obergefell: For me it's the prologue. Talking about when we first met Al [Gerhardstein, their attorney]. For me I always get choked up when there is the bit about how right after we got married how we would just say "Good morning husband. Good night husband." That part always gets me. I think for me that's the heart of the whole story for me, loving John and John loving me and being able to say husband and have it mean something. For me, it's always the prologue. That's probably my favorite part. It's the most meaningful to me. I will say that also the parts that I love in the book — and I think to me it gives so much more weight to the book — is Al's story. Learning about him, he was our attorney. I knew him as a man but in the process of this book learning more and more about his story and understanding what a tireless advocate and fighter he has been for civil rights in his career is just amazing. Just understanding what a redemption story this is for him as well. His experience with his brother's boyfriend and fighting Issue3 in Cincinnati. It's probably my favorite part about the whole thing. 


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