Part 3: Obergefell v Hodges – A Brief Background

Photograph by Ty Wright for BuzzFeed News

When speaking with some friends a few weeks back about the upcoming decision made from the Marriage Equality Case from the U.S. Supreme Court, I was reminded of a song from my childhood. Specifically, a song from School House Rock about the preamble in which we had to memorize in grade school to sing for our parents. I was reminded of the opening line which clearly states, “We the people of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union, must establish justice and insure domestic tranquility.” A nice sentiment sung by sweet cartoons, but honestly this feat is easier said than done.

Growing up, this was the principle value I believed this country was built on and would continue to foster as I grew older. I thought the focus was to build up our fellow man and work together to make this country the best we could. However naïve I may have been back in elementary school, it seems now more than ever that this concept is lost on our citizens.

With riots in Ferguson and now Baltimore, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by injustice. I keep trying to find a silver lining in all the pain, discrimination and death of individuals with subordinated identities and so far all I could come up with is that all of these instances are creating and encouraging nation-wide dialogues that desperately needs to happen about fair and just treatment of life. We have to keep talking. Keep fighting. Keep learning. Keep moving. Bad things are going to continue to happen, which I am aware is not an excuse, but the point is that people will keep progressing whether the greater power system wants them to or not.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Windsor in 2013, more than 80 cases have made their way through federal and state courts. On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the oral arguments in Obergefell v Hodges, a case which originated in Ohio.

In 2013, Jim Obergefell’s partner of 20 years, John Arthur, was in hospice care and confined to a hospital bed at home in Cincinnati. When the Windsor decision came out in June of that same year, Obergefell and Arthur made the swift conclusion that they wanted to get married. The couple flew to Baltimore, for a seven-and-a-half minute ceremony on a medical jet, before returning home to Cincinnati.

Same-sex marriages are not recognized in Ohio, civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein reached out to Obergefell and Arthur after their story was featured in the Cincinnati Enquirer, and their fight for marriage equality began. Countless lawyers, litigation organizations and plaintiffs have worked tirelessly for decades to make the progress of Obergefell possible. The case was joined by the ACLU and Lambda Legal, who helped lead Obergefell all the way to the Supreme Court.

In January, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Obergefell along with three other cases from Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The arguments have been consolidated and the case has formally been named Obergefell. The U.S. Supreme Court will consider two questions regarding marriage equality. The court will first consider whether states have the obligation to perform same-sex marriages. The court will then hear arguments as to whether states are obligated to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Presumably, if the Court sides with marriage equality in the first question, the second question will be irrelevant. The hearing was held on April 28th but we won’t hear a decision until June or early July.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” With all the injustice being faced around the world today, LGBTQ+ individuals are still fighting for growth and progress for their community, both in representation for all walks of life under the Queer spectrum and equal rights for all. This gives me hope that better days are coming. Maybe my childhood hope in the Preamble can come true.




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