LGBTQ+ Marriage Pioneer, University of Cincinnati Grad Jim Obergefell to Battle D.J. Swearingen for Ohio's 89th District

Obergefell became a recognizable name in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized marriage between members of the same sex.

click to enlarge Jim Obergefell is running to become the Representative for Ohio's 89th District. - Photo: Emma Parker Photography
Photo: Emma Parker Photography
Jim Obergefell is running to become the Representative for Ohio's 89th District.

The man who helped change the course of America's marriage equality through law is now hoping to do something similar in the political arena.

Jim Obergefell, who attended the University of Cincinnati and was the lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell vs. Hodges, won the Democratic nomination for Ohio's 89th House district during Ohio's special primary election on Aug. 2. He announced his candidacy in January and ran unopposed. As of press time at 9:30 p.m., Obergefell has 100% of the Democratic vote.

Obergefell was born in Sandusky and after stints in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Columbus, now lives there again near his siblings.

The 89th district currently is represented by Republican D.J. Swearingen, whom Obergefell will battle during the Nov. 8 general election.

Per the district maps that were redrawn by a Republican-led commission in 2022, the 89th district includes portions of Erie, Huron and Ottawa counties along Lake Erie in the northern portion of Ohio. The boundaries of the district were redrawn this year in an ongoing, dramatic redistricting battle. This and other district boundary maps repeatedly were rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court as being unconstitutional for unfairly favoring Republicans. The primary originally was to be held in May, with several legal skirmishes postponing it. A federal court declared that Ohio must use the maps for the rescheduled special election due to timing, but the state is required to pass new maps before the 2024 election. The ramifications of voting within the redrawn – and, many say, unfair – boundaries in districts throughout the state will affect elections and priorities for years to come.

Here's why Obergefell sounds familiar

Obergefell became a household name in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized marriage between members of the same sex throughout the country.

In 2013, Obergefell married longtime partner John Arthur, whom he met in Cincinnati, in Maryland after Arthur became very ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Because their home state of Ohio did not recognize same-sex marriages, Obergefell would not be able to be listed on Arthur's death certificate as the surviving spouse.

After Arthur died, Obergefell filed suit in lower courts before the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, with all nine judges ultimately deciding that states could not discriminate between heterosexual and homosexual marriages and that legal marriages in one state must be recognized in other states.

That decision continues to stand, but some attorneys who were involved in the case say that Republicans are continuing to chip at the law, and marriage protections could be removed in the future. Republicans seem to be developing that type of plan after reading U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' opinion upon voting on June 24 to overturn Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years had granted a person the right to privacy to choose abortion as a healthcare procedure.

In his concurring opinion, Thomas wrote, "In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell."

Legal experts as well as civil and human rights activists have long said that reversing Roe could set the stage for reversing other rights, including the one that had finally permitted Obergfell to legally marry anywhere within the nation. The rights and the major court cases granting those rights include:
  • The right to obtain contraceptives (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965)
  • The right to interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia, 1967)
  • The right to engage in private, consensual sexual acts (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003)
  • The right to same-sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015)
Thomas, who is Black, is married to Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, a white woman who is being investigated for pressuring lawmakers to help overturn the 2020 general election in which current U.S. President Joe Biden defeated incumbent Donald Trump. Trump's claims that he had won the election helped spark the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, investigators are finding.

The interracial marriage between Clarence and Virginia Thomas would have been outlawed without the decision from Loving v. Virginia.

All Ohio election results are preliminary until certified. As the presumed party winners, Obergefell and Swearingen will face off in the general election on Nov. 8. For election results and information, visit Ohio's secretary of state website.

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