Jim Obergefell, whose name has become synonymous with same-sex marriage rights in the U.S., announced Tuesday that he will run for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives.
Obergefell is running as a Democrat in his hometown, Sandusky, to represent the state’s 89th District, which includes Erie and Ottawa counties. He is seeking to challenge the first-term Republican incumbent, D.J. Swearingen.
Obergefell moved from Columbus back to Sandusky, on Lake Erie about an hour west of Cleveland, in June to be closer to his family, he said Tuesday at a news conference.
“This district deserves a representative who works to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I watched the good-paying jobs my father and brothers worked at GM and Scott Paper vanish when those factories closed. I watched my family struggle in the aftermath. I remember eating the so-called government cheese. I was just a kid.”
He said friends and family have left the area because they didn’t have any opportunities and saw “no way to stay in the community they love surrounded by the people they care about.”
“That’s heartbreaking,” he said. “We can fix that.”
He championed his advocacy work, including the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country. Obergefell and his husband, John Arthur, first sued Ohio in July 2013 after they flew to Maryland and got married on the tarmac of a Baltimore airport. The couple, whose case was later consolidated with similar cases in four other states, alleged that Ohio discriminated against couples who were lawfully wed out of state by not recognizing same-sex marriages (Hodges was an Ohio state official). Arthur, who was diagnosed in 2011 with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, died just three months after their wedding, at 48.
“I’ve been part of the national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans,” Obergefell said Tuesday. “But I didn’t do that just for my husband and our marriage. I championed the American ideals of equal justice under law, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and we the people. Simply put, I advocate for what’s right and just. This district deserves a representative who does the right thing.”
Obergefell said Tuesday that the political makeup of his home district “had no bearing on my decision to move here.”
“My decision to run is because of where I live, the people I care about and also my hope to make things better,” he said. “And I would just like to say, you know, things change over time. This district in the past has had Democrats as the representative, so it can again, so that’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m running, and I think I’ve proven with my fight for marriage equality that I don’t mind being an underdog. I don’t mind fighting a very big fight when it’s the right thing to do.”
Obergefell said that as a state representative, he would create a bipartisan caucus to protect Lake Erie and improve access to jobs that pay living wages.
He said he also wants to create a state where LGBTQ people and others who have been marginalized feel safe and protected. He said he would voice his support for the Equality Act, a bill the U.S. House passed last year that would provide the first federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, jury duty, public accommodations and other areas of life. He said he would also support the Ohio Fairness Act, bipartisan legislation that was reintroduced last year in the Legislature, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing nondiscrimination law; the act never passed.
The Legislature also considered a number of other pro- and anti-LGBTQ bills last year, two of which that sought to ban transgender student-athletes from playing on female school sports teams, making it one of more than two dozen states that considered such bills last year.
Obergefell noted during the news conference that Ohio was not alone in considering anti-LGBTQ legislation last year.
“The LGBTQ+ community is under attack, especially the transgender community,” he said. “Now, as far as getting to the details of what I will propose, what I will do, that’s coming down the road, but the LGBTQ community in Ohio has my word that I will do everything in my power to fight for them, and I will do everything I can to build bipartisan support.”
If Obergefell wins, he would be the second LGBTQ member of the Ohio General Assembly, after Sen. Nickie Antonio, a Democrat who represents the 23rd District.