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The gay activist who lead the victorious case to make same-sex marriage legal across the country received a momentous phone call from President Obama just minutes after the Supreme Court passed the historic decision.
Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the historic lawsuit, was speaking to CNN when his cell phone started ringing.
The 48-year-old real estate seller answered and placed the call on loudspeaker, so those around him could hear the Commander-in-chief.
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Momentous message: Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the suit, was speaking to CNN when he received a call from President Obama
Obama first said: ‘Hi, is this Jim?’ Mr Obergefell answered: ‘Yes, it is, Mr President.’
The president then said: ‘Jim, when I saw you that we were going to hoping for some good news. And we did. I just want to say congratulations.’
‘Thank you so much sir, I think it was your wishes,’ Mr Obergefell responded.
Obama then thanked the activist for his leadership, insisting it has ‘changed the country’.
Mr Obergefell then said: ‘I really appreciate that Mr President. It;s really been an honor for me to be involved in this fight and to have been able to, you know, fight for my marriage and live up to my commitments to my husband.
‘So I appreciate everything you’ve done for the LGBT community and it’s really an honor to have become party of that fight.’
Obama finally said: ‘Well we’re really proud of you. And you know, just know that, you know, not only have you been a great example for people but you’re also going to bring about lasting change in this country. And it’s pretty rare where that happens.
‘So I couldn’t be prouder of you and your husband. God bless you.’
Moments before the phone call, Mr Obergefell spoke to a cheering crowd on the steps of the courthouse.
He said: ‘Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in our hearts – our love is equal, that the four words etched onto the front of the Supreme Court – equal justice under law – apply to us, too.’
Hundreds of gay rights supporters celebrated outside the courthouse with whoops and cries of ‘U-S-A!’ and ‘Love is love’ as the decision came down.
Mr Obergefell became one of the most visible figures in the marriage-equality movement when he married partner of 21 years John Arthur in 2013 after SCOTUS struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Appreciation: Obama thanked the activist for his leadership, insisting it has ‘changed the country’
It was complicated, both because he and John lived in Ohio, where voters banned same-sex marriage in 2004, and because Arthur was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
But within weeks, they were on a medically equipped plane to Maryland, where Arthur’s aunt officiated at a ceremony carried out as he lay on a gurney inside the plane on the tarmac.
‘That was our plan, just to get married,’ Obergefell said.
On their return home, friends told their story to veteran Cincinnati civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein, and helped connect them. He explained that the death certificate in Ohio wouldn’t list Obergefell as Arthur’s surviving spouse.
‘Hearing that was heartbreaking news,’ Obergefell said. ‘Purely the meanness of it. … The state where you lived and built a life together would completely disregard our legal marriage. How on earth does that harm the state of Ohio or the people of Ohio?’
The couple went to court and won a temporary injunction against enforcement of the state’s ban a few days later.
Relationship: Mr Obergefell became one of the most visible figures in the marriage-equality movement when he married partner of 21 years John Arthur (right) in 2013 after SCOTUS struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act
Arthur died a little over three months after they were married. Obergefell was listed as spouse on his death certificate.
But his legal victory was overturned by a federal appeals court.
He’s also run into problems with matters such as surviving spouse benefits. And there’s uncertainty about his ability to be memorialized in a family plot that Arthur’s grandparents set aside for married spouses and direct descendants.
Mr Obergefell, now 48 and selling real estate in Cincinnati, was in the courtroom for the appeals court arguments last August. He plans to be at the Supreme Court on April 28 as the lead plaintiff in a case that could extend the right to same-sex marriage nationwide.
Before all of this, Mr Obergefell hadn’t been much involved in politics.
‘No one could ever accuse us of being activists,’ he said, smiling. ‘We just lived our lives. We were just John and Jim.’
The court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages. With the landmark ruling, gay marriage becomes legal in all 50 states.
Motivation: Arthur died a little over three months after they were married. Obergefell was listed as spouse on his death certificate – but his legal victory was overturned by a federal appeals court, prompting him to join the nationwide legal action
Immediately after the decision, same-sex couples in many of states where gay marriage had been banned headed to county clerks’ offices for marriage licenses as state officials issued statements saying they would respect the ruling.
President Barack Obama, appearing in the White House Rose Garden, hailed the ruling as a milestone in American justice that arrived ‘like a thunderbolt.’
‘This ruling is a victory for America,’ said Obama, the first sitting president to support gay marriage. ‘This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.’
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing on behalf of the court, said the hope of gay people intending to marry ‘is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.’
Kennedy, a conservative who often casts the deciding vote in close cases, was joined in the majority by the court’s four liberal justices.
OBAMA: Hi, is this Jim?
OBERGEFELL: Yes, it is, Mr President.
OBAMA: Jim, when I saw you that we were going to be hoping for some good news. And we did. I just want to say congratulations.
OBERGEFELL: Thank you so much sir, I think it was your wishes.
OBAMA: Your leadership on this, you know, has changed the country.
OBERGEFELL: I really appreciate that Mr President. It;s really been an honor for me to be involved in this fight and to have been ablr to, you know, fight for my marriage and live up to my commitments to my husband.
So I appreciate everything you’ve done for the LGBT community and it’s really an honor to have become party of that fight.
OBAMA: Well we’re really proud of you. And you know, just know that, you know, not only have you been a great example for people but you’re also going to bring about lasting change in this country. And it’s pretty rare where that happens.
So I couldn’t be prouder of you and your husband. God bless you.
OBERGEFELL: Thank you, sir. That means an incredible amount to me. Yeah, thank you.
OBAMA: All right take care.
OBERGEFELL: Thanks for the call Mr President.
Kennedy, appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1988, has now authored all four of the court’s major gay rights rulings, with the first coming in 1996. As with his 2013 opinion when the court struck down a federal law that denied benefits to same-sex couples, Kennedy stressed the dignity of marriage.
‘Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,’ Kennedy wrote.
In a blistering dissenting opinion, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said the decision shows the court is a ‘threat to American democracy.’ The ruling ‘says that my ruler and the ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court,’ Scalia added.
Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in his 10 years on the court. Roberts said although there are strong policy arguments in same-sex marriage, it was not the court’s role to force states to change their marriage laws.
‘Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law,’ Roberts wrote.
The dissenters raised concerns about the impact of the case on people opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.
Although the ruling only affects state laws and religious institutions can still choose whether to marry same-sex couples, Roberts predicted future legal conflicts.
‘Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage,’ Roberts said. Roberts gave as an example a religious college that provides married student housing only to opposite-sex couples.
The ruling is the Supreme Court’s most important expansion of marriage rights in the United States since its landmark 1967 ruling in the case Loving v. Virginia that struck down state laws barring interracial marriages.
There were 13 state bans in place, while another state, Alabama, had contested a court ruling that lifted the ban there.
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