Quickly it would be time for very good-bye. His husband was dying, and with a gentle knock on the bedroom door extended previous midnight, it would come now, swiftly. But Jim Obergefell, married for 5 days, didn’t want to believe about a funeral, not on this bright July morning when Cincinnati was in the throes of summer time and his husband, John, was sitting up in bed because the spasms that coursed from his hips to his toes had mercifully subsided.

John Arthur couldn’t put on a wedding ring. The weight of it hurt his fingers. He was naked below an electric blanket because clothes created his skin burn. His voice, what was left of it, had turn out to be winded and hoarse, a labored delivery of syllables and sounds that needed excellent concentration and extended, shallow breaths. Jim had to bend low to hear him, endlessly struck that a man who’d once had such a deep and lyrical laugh could now create only a whisper. But for 5 days, John had pushed out a single, excellent word.


Great night, husband. Very good morning, husband. I enjoy you, husband.

Disease had struck all of a sudden, just following John’s forty-fifth birthday two years earlier, when his left foot began dragging as if a ten-pound weight was bearing down on his shoe and everything they knew shifted and splintered. The diagnosis of ALS had been a death sentence: the neurological disorder attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, sooner or later robbing each muscle in the body of movement, like the diaphragm, which facilitates air flow to the lungs. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis actually suffocates its victims to death.

Jim glanced at John in the bedroom they’d after shared, painted pale yellow and dominated by a hospital bed that compressed and expanded beneath John’s weight. Jim had moved to the guest space, but currently this morning he had spent numerous hours in a chair by John’s bedside, watching the news on a television set loud adequate to overcome the continuous whoosh of an oxygen generator that pumped air through a line looping more than John’s ears and up into his nostrils. The bedroom faced east, and Jim had opened the window blinds so John could really feel the sun.

On this day, they were expecting a visitor.

Jim was nervous about meeting a civil rights lawyer who had spent the greater part of thirty years suing the City of Cincinnati, but when Al Gerhardstein rapped on the door of their downtown condominium just right after two p.m., his smile was benign and his graying sideburns were slightly disheveled, as if he had just come in from a run. He adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses, and when he shook Jim’s hand, the embrace was firm and friendly.

Al followed Jim down the length of the hall to the bedroom, where John was propped up on pillows, waiting. Dropping his briefcase to the floor, Al barely glanced at the hulking hospital bed. His younger sister, one particular of six Gerhardstein siblings, was paralyzed by numerous sclerosis, and on Saturday mornings, Al sipped coffee by her bedside till her caregiver arrived.

He leaned forward and rested a light hand on John’s shoulder. And then he stated, “Tell me about your wedding.”

“Saying ‘I thee wed’ was the most lovely moment of my life,” Jim stated, seeking at John, whose frail frame was hidden beneath the blanket, and remembering the lanky, grinning man with a mop of blond hair.

They had spent more than twenty years with each other in Cincinnati, spread across the hills and low ridges of the Ohio Valley, but had never ever felt compelled to marry simply because Ohio had banned very same-sex marriage and the federal government didn’t recognize the state-sanctioned marriages of gay couples anyway. But 3 weeks earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had delivered an crucial win to the gay neighborhood, finding that same-sex couples married beneath state law deserved all the federal benefits that came with it, spanning health care, Social Safety, veterans’ assistance, housing, taxes. So Jim and John had traveled to Maryland to marry, every mile in a private plane fixed with medical gear wearing on John’s fragile body.

“He suffered,” Jim told Al. “It’s frustrating and hurtful to know that the particular person you really like went by means of terrible discomfort and discomfort just to do anything millions of others take for granted.”

“I wanted us to be treated the same,” John said gradually, every word a struggle. “And I want Jim to be legally taken care of right after I die.”

Al listened without taking notes. As soon as, twenty years earlier, when he had been in his early forties juggling 3 youngsters and a shoestring law practice that operated on contingency, the voters of Cincinnati had changed the city’s charter, permanently banning all laws that would protect the gay community from discrimination in regions like housing and employment. To Al, it was an arbitrary and hateful provision, and he sued in federal court. He spent practically 5 years working without pay, and when the case was done, he questioned the city, the courts, and the application of law. He believed about shuttering his practice and taking up teaching, moving his household from Cincinnati.

He wasn’t certain if he would ever take on yet another main gay rights case, but then United States v. Windsor on June 26 had struck down a important provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, which for more than fifteen years defined marriage solely as a union among 1 man and one lady. The law, Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion overturning it, told gay couples “that their Otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition.”

Over late nights in a dusty office overlooking a bus cease and the federal courthouse, a poster of Rosa Parks in the lobby and hate mail tacked to a bulletin board in the kitchen, Al studied Ohio’s ban on very same-sex marriage, passed by a majority of voters in 2004.

He discovered a striking inconsistency.

Excerpted from Enjoy Wins by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell, HarperCollins Publishers.


The Couple Who Altered the Course of LGBT Rights
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