Meet Jim

Jim Obergefell is not afraid of a fight.

I was born and raised in Sandusky, the youngest of six children in a blue-collar Catholic family, and I’m a proud graduate of Sandusky High School. My parents are buried in Sandusky, and all my siblings still live in Erie County.

My father served in the United States Navy in World War II, my oldest brother was a member of the Ohio National Guard, and my brother-in-law was in the United States Army. My mom was a librarian at the Sandusky Public Library. Teaching and healthcare are professions my siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephew have chosen. Serving our nation is part of my family’s DNA. 

My dad and several of my brothers were factory workers – until Scott Paper and GM closed up shop in Sandusky. My siblings have had various careers, from office work to nursing and allied health. Some of my nieces and nephews are still in Erie County, teaching in Perkins and Sandusky Schools, or working in healthcare. I’ve watched other nieces and nephews leave Erie County because there were no opportunities for them after they finished college. 

I cleaned house and did yard work for my seventh grade music teacher and her husband. My first job at the age of 16 was at McDonald’s by the Sandusky Mall. I’ve been a public high school teacher, a trainer for customer service in financial services, and a real estate agent. I’ve worked for a non-profit, advocating for families. I’m an author and a speaker. 

I’m the owner of a small business, a wine label, that supports organizations fighting for equality for all. 

I learned my values from my parents, and I’ve relied on those values my entire life. Those values – to treat others the way you wish to be treated, to do what’s right, to stand up for others, to fight for those you care about – guide my decisions and actions, even when the actions I take seem daunting or impossible.

Fighting for Equality

When I learned that John, the most important person in my life, had a terminal illness – ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – I was devastated. But when you love someone, you do anything you can, even when that means being their caregiver because they’ve lost the ability to do anything for themselves. That’s what love, devotion, and family mean. That’s what doing the right thing is all about.

When John was nearing the end of his life, we suddenly had the opportunity to get lawfully married, and have that marriage recognized at the federal level, due to the United States v. Windsor Supreme Court decision. We lived in Ohio, where a state constitutional amendment barred us from getting married, so we got married inside a medical jet on a Maryland airport runway instead. Maryland had no restrictions on same-sex marriage.

It wasn’t easy to take a bedridden, dying man to another state to do something Ohio prevented us from doing, but we did it. After more than 20 years together, we wanted to have our relationship, our marriage, recognized by the government. We wanted to exist in the eyes of the law.

Saying “I do” was the happiest moment of our life together. But Ohio refused to acknowledge, recognize, or respect our lawful out-of-state marriage in any way. To the state of Ohio, John and I were legal strangers with no rights. Although John died a lawfully married man, Ohio would complete his last official record as a person – his death certificate – incorrectly by showing him as unmarried at the time of death, and by not listing me as his surviving spouse. Not only that, due to his mother’s family’s cemetery plot restrictions, because I would not be listed as John’s surviving spouse, we would never be allowed to be buried or memorialized together in that family plot.

Before John died, we decided that we would fight the state of Ohio in court. We were lawfully married. We had been together and cared for each other for more than 20 years. We deserved dignity and respect. Not only that, couples like us across the state, and across the nation, deserved the same rights and responsibilities as any other married couple. And their families deserved it as well.

I took this case, Obergefell v. Hodges, all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. I sat in that hushed courtroom, a grand space of mahogany and marble, with an ornate plaster ceiling in shades of red, white, and blue, and I listened to the states of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan argue for their right to deny us the right to marry, one of the most significant and life-affirming steps straight couples took for granted. 

I listened to the states argue that our relationship, and those like ours, were somehow less: less worthy, less valid, less genuine than straight couples. I listened as they argued that John deserved to die with an incorrect last record as a person because he happened to be part of a same-sex couple. I listened as they argued that I did not deserve the right to call myself John’s widower.

I listened as they argued that the children of same-sex couples didn’t deserve the rights and protections that come with having both parents listed on their birth certificates. I listened as so-called defenders of the family fought tooth and nail to put children of same-sex couples in serious legal jeopardy, not to mention the harm caused by telling those children and their parents that they were less valid, less important, less real than children of straight couples. Basically, they were viewed as less than human, and that was reminiscent of many other court cases.

I sat in that courtroom, one of an unfortunately long line of Americans who were told that the color of their skin, their race, their sex, their nationality, or some other innate part of their identity meant that they were less deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I sat in that courtroom, fighting for my marriage, because of those many brave souls who came before me, those who fought for what’s right and just.

On June 26, 2015, I was in that courtroom again when the highest court in the land ruled that the Constitution of the United States grants same-sex couples the right to marry and to have those unions – and families – recognized throughout the nation. I stood in the midst of the crowd celebrating that decision on the courthouse plaza as people cried, sang, cheered, and rejoiced that the Supreme Court had lived up to the words inscribed in the pediment of their very building – Equal Justice Under Law. I cried along with that joyful crowd because I felt like an equal American for the first time in my life as an out, gay man. 

That case was about family. Families like John’s and mine, and our right as human beings to have our relationship, our family, respected and protected. Suing the state of Ohio, and eventually going all the way to the Supreme Court, is scary and overwhelming. But it was the right thing to do. As President Obama told me that morning, John and I helped make the world a better place that day, and that’s what I want to do for the people of Erie and Ottawa counties.

I learned that a small group of people truly can change the world when they fight for what’s right, when they fight for dignity and respect, when they fight for everyone to have the opportunity to participate fully in society. That’s what I’ll do as your representative. I will fight for you to be able to fully participate in our society and in our economy.

I want my family, my friends and my neighbors – everyone in Erie and Ottawa counties – to have the opportunity to not only stay here, but to raise a family if they choose, and to watch their grandchildren grow up here. 

But that can’t happen without jobs and opportunities. That can’t happen if state laws and policies don’t support, protect, and encourage our families. All of our families. That can’t happen without  state representatives who put you first in everything they do. 

I want our families to stay here and help build strong communities. If they move away, I want them to do that because they choose to, not because they have to. I’ll fight to create jobs and opportunities to make that happen. I’ll fight to give everyone the opportunity to stay and be part of strong, vibrant communities. Those are broad and ambitious goals, and I promise you I will listen, learn, and develop proposals and policies to do that. 

I left Sandusky to attend the University of Cincinnati. When I earned my degree, I had very few opportunities as a new high school German teacher. I had to go where I found a job, and that meant I stayed in Cincinnati to teach in southeastern Indiana. I fell in love in Cincinnati, and that’s where we built a life together. After leaving graduate school at Bowling Green State University, I returned to Cincinnati because that’s where John was. My experience fighting for marriage equality took me to Washington, DC for a few years, but I missed Ohio, and I returned to Columbus. 

Sandusky was never far from my heart during my time in Cincinnati, DC, and Columbus. While in Columbus, I regularly drove the four-hour round-trip in one day just to have dinner with my family and see friends. I was an extra in the movie Swan Song that filmed here. I led Segway tours for Sandusky Segwave. And the pandemic helped me realize what was most important to me – my family, and my roots. Moving home to Sandusky was the right decision. I’m home again, surrounded by family and friends, including friends I’ve had since the age of 4 when my family moved from the corner of Milan and Bogart Roads to Central Avenue in Sandusky.

I moved home to be close to family. A few months later, I realized that I wanted to – no, I needed to – do something to help make things better for the people of Ohio’s North Coast. I’d been part of creating positive change for our nation – now it was time to do that for Erie and Ottawa counties. 

Some people underestimated me in my fight for marriage equality, and that was a mistake.

I don’t mind being the underdog. I’m not afraid to take on any issue when it’s the right thing to do. Doing the right thing is never wrong. I’ve spent my life standing up and stepping forward to ensure everyone is treated equally with dignity and respect, and I will bring that same fighting spirit as your state representative.

You deserve someone you can trust, someone with a proven record of not backing down. You deserve to have someone in the state house who will fight for you to create good jobs, give our kids a great public education with schoolhouse doors and classrooms open to everyone, someone who makes sure you and your loved ones have access to quality healthcare. Someone who will listen and do his best to achieve our collective goals.

The great lakes are the largest grouping of freshwater lakes in the world by area. Not only do we need freshwater to live, but Lake Erie is vital to the economies of Ottawa and Erie counties. We must wisely and respectfully put this great resource to work to drive our economic engine and recovery along the Lake Erie shore.

You deserve a state representative who fights for those things, and cares about the area and its people. You deserve a state representative who always does the right thing, a state representative who puts your needs at the forefront of everything he does. 

It’s a big job, and I’m ready to be that state representative for you. I’ll fight for what’s right, what’s just. I’ll work for you and our communities in both Erie and Ottawa counties.