Beyond the incomparable thrill of witnessing a country collectively evolve right in front of us with the recent SCOTUS decision, it’s become a point of pride to know that without Ohio—and Jim and John Obergefell—we’d be stuck in an old conversation.
It was in conjunction with a multitude, but the largest national legal battle of our time bears the name of a man born in Sandusky—not San Francisco, not Greenwich Village.
Maybe, just maybe, we’re starting to back up that whole “Heartland” nickname.
After all, it was just a little over a decade ago that Ohio was a significant battleground for the war about “family values”—so to assess our state’s current climate of celebrating families across the spectrum, well, that adds a little extra delight for me. If we’re being honest, Ohio and the Midwest have always been counted as “middle America,” and whether or not that’s geographically accurate, we’ve often been the group who politicians espouse as central to the American conscience.
And now, with that conscience collectively changed, this group has finally started to see the gay marriage “issue” as far less political and more about our country’s ingrained values.
Sure, there will be challenges going forward, things to untangle, to clarify, to fight for (as we delve into in our cover story package), but we’ve come quite a ways from a decade ago. Now, it’s just about basic human rights.
As opposition transitioned to apathy and then later into acceptance and even activism in Ohio, we watched as long-standing stigmas and taboos evaporated. Perhaps as more and more LGBT citizens feel comfortable living out, and as their allies multiply, it has become increasingly unrealistic for people to see the LGBT community as a fundamentally different one. Living in this state my entire life, I have to be honest: there was a time, not too long ago, that I didn’t think we’d get there.
I hope it happened at least in part because we started thinking of those involved as people rather than as “others.” Jim Obergefell is your uncle. Your dad. Your brother. Your coworker. Someone who had to endure the heart-wrenching reality of his spouse being taken from him by ALS—and the gut punch of knowing that despite being married legally in another state and being committed to each other for two decades, Ohio wouldn’t call him husband because of a technicality. Family values, indeed…
That’s always been the not-so-comical irony to me: those who once spent time fighting for “family values” were oblivious to how many families were potentially torn apart by such a divisive approach.
Now, those wounds can begin to heal.
No more careful pronouns, said Jimmie Beall, the first Columbus LGBT citizen to be granted a marriage license. No more “friends.” No more skittish approaches to relationship status, no more talking in code.
Obergefell’s activism was “accidental,” as he has often said, something that only came as a result of an obstacle personal to him, in this case knowing that beyond marriage benefits, or medical rights, that his home state denied him and his husband their basic right to be treated like everyone else. You don’t have to be an activist or even identify yourself as an ally to relate to that.
A man from Cincinnati catalyzed a shift in the entire nation’s conscience by fighting to see that his family was treated fairly. It was that simple, and you can hear it in his words whenever he speaks about John and the case: I’ll be damned if the government is going to keep my name off my husband’s death certificate. And if I have to, I’ll take it all the way to Washington.
Love. Acceptance. Freedom. Family. Protection. Determination. Equality.
What’s more American than that?
Travis Hoewischer, Editor-in-Chief