HRC Blog

WATCH: How One Ohio Couple Got Married After a Fatal Diagnosis and a Landmark Ruling

Post submitted by David McCabe, HRC Digital Media Intern

John Arthur and Jim Obergefell, who live near Cincinatti, had never planned to have a wedding. They had been together for close to 20 years, but they didn't want to get married until their relationship was recognized under the law. That didn't seem likely with the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and an Ohio ban on same-sex marriage still in place.

Then, John was diagnosed with ALS — a terminal illness that affects the nervous system — and that calculus started to shift. As he was becoming frailer, progressing from using a cane to a walker to being bedridden, Windsor v. United States was making its way towards the Supreme Court. Then, in June, a ruling: If John and Jim got married in a state where it was legal, they could have all of the same federal rights granted to married straight couples.

Most states require that both partners be present to recieve a marriage license, which was impossible given John's unique medical needs. But Maryland, which has been a marriage equality state since January, allowed only one spouse to pick up the license. It suddenly seemed possible that despite all the challenges, the couple could be married. Family and friends donated to help tackle the cost of chartering a private plane specially equipped to hold a stretcher, and John's aunt Paulette came along to officiate.

When the plane landed in Baltimore, it taxied and parked. The pilots left, and Paulette married the couple.

The story was told in a special editorial by the Cincinatti Enquirer that advocated for bringing marriage equality to the Buckeye State, not just because it would benefit the state economically and help Ohio retain top-flight talent currently lost to a "brain drain," but because loving, committed couples like John and Jim deserve the dignity that comes from having their relationship recognized by the place they call home. Their story calls attention the increasingly harsh reality that, even as the LGBT community and its allies make great progress, we live in two Americas: one where discrimination is slowly being stricken from the lawbooks and another where that discrimination still defines the lives of too many LGBT Americans.

Not every couple can find a way to travel to another state to get married, and every couple deserves to be able to enjoy the benefits of marriage in both sickness and health, not just the former.

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