Less than one year ago, the LGBT community and their supporters around the country celebrated the historic Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states. Now in the middle of LGBT Pride month, Jim Obergefell, the man at the center of that movement and one of the plaintiffs in the case, finds himself feeling “utter devastation and heartache” after this weekend’s terrorist attack in Orlando.
“Yet again a group of people in our country have had their lives snuffed out by something as basic as hate,” Obergefell told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric. “I’m still just sick of how horribly our community has been targeted in this terrible crime.”
On Sunday, the nation witnessed its worst mass shooting in U.S. history and the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001. President Obama called the attack not only an act of terror but also “an act of hate.”
“We have grown up in a world that has directed hate towards us,” said Obergefell. “Most of us have been fortunate enough to make it through life without something like this happening to us or to someone we love. I just want those families to know: We cry with you, we are there to do anything we can to help our country heal, to help you heal. I am here to speak up for those victims and their families.”
On Tuesday, Obergefell and Debbie Cenziper, a Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post reporter, released their new book, “Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Found the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality.” It tells his story and the legal battles of the other plaintiffs represented in the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges.
John Arthur, Obergefell’s partner of over 20 years, was diagnosed at age 45 with ALS. The couple couldn’t get married in their home state of Ohio and were married on a Maryland tarmac three months before Arthur died in 2013. When Obergefell discovered that Ohio would not recognize their marriage, he filed a lawsuit.
“I’ve been an investigative reporter at major newspapers for 25 years writing about all kinds of bad things,” Cenziper told Couric. “This story was different. It was about love and family and commitment and helping people feel empowered, and I knew immediately that this was a book I wanted to write … unlike what happened Sunday, this is a story about love, and it’s a story about life, and I think it will move people.”
Throughout the nearly two years it took for the case to get to the Supreme Court, Obergefell only received four pieces of mail “that were less than supportive.” That’s because, he believes, he and Arthur were a couple that everyone can relate to.
“Every civil rights case starts with a story, and that’s, I think, what this case was,” said Cenziper. “When you hear about people that can’t get an accurate birth certificate or parents that can’t get an accurate death certificate, even though they are legally married, it’s just outrageous, and I think those stories in the case helped move hearts and minds and led to the Supreme Court decision.”
Obergefell told Couric that whenever the case is referenced, he has to “pinch” himself, feeling it’s an honor for him to speak out for Americans across the country that believe in equality.
“I want to believe that this horrific hate crime, horrific terrorist act, will inspire people to look deep inside and to think about what they say, what they do, how they behave, how they treat the people in their lives, the people around them,” said Obergefell. “I hope it causes people to think about that and think about it seriously because our words, our actions have impact. There are consequences to what we say and what we do, and if we don’t learn from scenes like this, actions like this, we will never learn.”