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A perfect day, one year ago: The wedding that could topple Ohio’s gay marriage ban

“I look at it now and I think, what a great legacy for John"
Friday, July 11, 2014
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Glenn Hartong, The Cincinnati Enquirer (AP)In this July 11, 2013 file photo, Jim Obergefell, left and John Arthur, right, are married by officiant Paulette Roberts, in a plane on the tarmac at Baltimore/Washington International Airport in Glen Burnie, Md. Federal Judge Timothy Black on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, questioned the constitutionality of Ohio's ban on gay marriage and whether state officials have the authority to refuse to recognize the marriages of gay couples who wed in other states. Black earlier ruled in favor of the couple in a lawsuit seeking to recognize the couples' marriage on Arthur’s death certificate before he died in October from ALS.

Glenn Hartong, The Cincinnati Enquirer (AP)
In this July 11, 2013 file photo, Jim Obergefell, left and John Arthur, right, are married by officiant Paulette Roberts, in a plane on the tarmac at Baltimore/Washington International Airport in Glen Burnie, Md. Federal Judge Timothy Black on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, questioned the constitutionality of Ohio’s ban on gay marriage and whether state officials have the authority to refuse to recognize the marriages of gay couples who wed in other states. Black earlier ruled in favor of the couple in a lawsuit seeking to recognize the couples’ marriage on Arthur’s death certificate before he died in October from ALS.

John Arthur told a friend that she didn’t know how to talk to guys. So he was going to take her out and show her how it’s done.

“That guy likes you,” she told him later about the friend of some friends – Jim, his name was – who had come down to Cincinnati from Bowling Green to spend part of the holidays.

“Nah,” Arthur told her.

“We were together 20 years and 10 months,” Jim Obergefell says, sitting at the dining table of the couple’s condo in Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine neighborhood. Obergefell just tried watching the video of their July 2013 wedding, but he couldn’t get past John’s first words to the camera.

It’s too soon after his husband’s passing, from ALS, last October. And John Arthur, at age 48, passed too soon.

Just two years earlier everything was fine, until they both noticed he had been walking a little differently.

Arthur saw the doctor in June 2011. By June 2013, he was bedridden.

It was June 26, 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court nullified a portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and ordered the federal government to recognize all unions performed in marriage equality states.

“We were so not gay activists,” Obergefell says. Like many couples, they once decided they didn’t need government sanction for their relationship, but marriage suddenly carried more meaning after the ruling.

They had the should-we discussion and decided they should. They didn’t set out for a fight.

Obergefell and Arthur flew from Cincinnati to Baltimore on July 11, 2013, on a medical transport plane, spent 56 minutes on the ground, were married in a 7½-minute ceremony in the plane’s cabin, and flew back home as federally recognized spouses.

Friends and family had been asked via Facebook for ideas and connections to make the trip happen, and they responded instead with donations that covered the $12,700 cost of the plane.

Crossroads Hospice, which gives its patients the gift of a perfect day, arranged the ambulance ride to the airport. The Cincinnati Enquirer documented the couple’s wedding with a story and video that ran three days later, on July 14.

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