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Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Case Sparked An Unlikely Friendship

Rick Hodges and Jim Obergefell
Rick Hodges and Jim Obergefell

The landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision on "Obergefell v. Hodges" legalized same-sex marriage. In the case, Cincinnati real estate broker Jim Obergefell sued the state of Ohio for refusing to recognize his marriage to his husband John Arthur on Arthur’s death certificate after he died from ALS.

On the opposite side was Rick Hodges, who led the Ohio Department of Health and was designated as the defendant in the case. In this conversation for StoryCorps COLUMBUS, Obergefell sat down with Hodges to discuss the case and their resulting friendship.

The court case put Rick Hodges in an awkward position because even though it went against his personal values, he took an oath to defend the law.

"And I found it humorous, the the quandary I was in, because I did have an obligation to defend, but I hoped we lost," Hodges said.

Other than his name, Hodges had almost nothing to do with the long court battle.

"You were never in the courtroom," Obergefell said to Hodges. "You weren't even involved, really. You were just the name."

While the case didn't signifigantly affect the daily life of Hodges, it put Obergefel in the public spotlight after a very personal tragedy, the death of his husband.

"John and I, you know, we got married and he was going to die from ALS," Obergefell said. "And we just wanted his death certificate to be accurate."  

Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the marriage equality case "Obergefell v. Hodges," stands in from of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 6, 2015.
Credit Andrew Harnik / Associated Press
Associated Press
Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the marriage equality case "Obergefell v. Hodges," stands in from of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 6, 2015.

Obergefell was actively involved in the case for year. With the Supreme Court's decision, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country, Obergefell became a symbol for civil rights. Hodges wanted to know how becoming a public figure affected how Obergefell dealt with the death of his husband. 

"The past few months, I have found myself thinking and realizing that I'm not sure I ever really fully dealt with my grief over John's death," Obergefell said. 

On the other hand, Obergefell said, the case helped keep his husband's memory alive.

"I got to talk about the most important person in my world. And I also got to talk about his loss turning into this amazing step forward for LGBTQ rights in our nation," Obergefell said.   

Jim Obergefell and Rick Hodges were recorded at the StoryCorps mobile booth when it visited Columbus this summer. 

To hear more stories from your neighbors, be sure to subscribe to the StoryCorps COLUMBUS podcast on AppleSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Michael De Bonis develops and produces digital content including podcasts, videos, and news stories. He is also the editor of WOSU's award-winning Curious Cbus project. He moved to Columbus in 2012 to work as the producer of All Sides with Ann Fisher, the live news talk show on 89.7 NPR News.