Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley announced that his guest to the 2016 State of the Union Address will be Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges that extended marriage equality to all 50 states in June 2015. This morning, the White House announced that Obergefell will be seated in the First Lady’s box for the speech.
Merkley is the lead Senate sponsor of the Equality Act, comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation that would extend federal non-discrimination protections to LGBT Americans in key areas, including employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, credit, and education.
“I’m honored to bring Jim Obergefell as my guest to the State of the Union this year,” said Merkley. “Jim’s love and commitment to his husband and his pursuit of justice should serve as an inspiration to us all. Now, we must finish the work that we have started and ensure that LGBT Americans have full equality in all aspects of their lives. It’s incomprehensibly wrong that in many states, a couple could marry in the morning and legally be evicted from their apartment or kicked out of a restaurant in the afternoon. No one knows better than Jim that we have come a long way, but as we have seen with the recent attack on marriage equality in Alabama, it’s more important than ever to keep pushing for full equality. I’m pleased to have Jim with me this week to highlight both the tremendous progress we’ve made and the important work that’s left to be done.”
“I’m honored to have been invited by Senator Merkley to attend the State of the Union address and to have been asked by the First Lady to sit in her box,” said Obergefell. “I look forward to the President’s address as he celebrates the strides our nation has made in equality during his administration thanks to his leadership and the support of legislators like Senator Merkley. I’m thrilled to attend not just for my husband John and myself, but also for the other plaintiffs and attorneys in the Supreme Court case, as well as the countless other marriage equality plaintiffs and LGBTQ activists who have stood up for equality before me.”
In 2013, just months before his husband John Arthur died of ALS, Obergefell and Arthur flew to Maryland from their home state of Ohio to be married. At the time, same-sex marriage was still prohibited in Ohio, and after Arthurs’s death, the state of Ohio refused to recognize Obergefell as his husband on the death certificate. He took his case to court to receive a death certificate that reflected their commitment to each other, and in 2015, he prevailed at the Supreme Court, winning a sweeping decision that extended marriage equality to all 50 states. Since the decision, Obergefell has continued to act as an advocate for full LGBT equality, including urging passage of the Equality Act.
Merkley invited Obergefell to be his guest to the State of the Union in recognition of the significance of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality.
The Equality Act is cosponsored by more than 200 members of Congress, and was recently endorsed by President Obama.