As part of Out Leadership’s Leading Through our History series, Founder and CEO, Todd Sears, was joined in conversation by Jim Obergefell from the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges civil rights case, Jocelyn Samuels, the Executive Director of the Williams Institute, and Christy Mallory, a Renberg Scholar of Law and State and Local Policy Director. Obergefell recounted the past of his case, explaining to the panel how he felt it was necessary to take the situation to court because the state of Ohio was trying to erase his marriage to his late husband, John. In order for their marriage to be officially recognized on his husband’s death certificate, he needed to take the case to court. He also expressed his gratitude to and respect for the Black community, saying that they did a lot of the work that served as stepping stones to what Obergefell then fought for in 2015. Black civil rights activists fighting for their rights to things like interracial marriage are what opened up the space to conversations on same-sex marriage recognition, and Obergefell made a clear point that we would not be where we are now without the people who came before us.
Mallory then took some time to explain the research that has been done by the Williams Institute on this subject. A lot of entities were hesitant to recognize same-sex partnership because of what they thought would be economic costs involved in providing benefits to these couples, but the Williams Institute’s research showed that recognition of same-sex partnership actually comes with a lot of economic gain. Because there is a pent-up demand for celebrations of partnerships where people have not been able to commemorate them in the past, this recognition inadvertently supports industries within any state because couples are planning events, purchasing things for them, and more. This generates local tax revenue as well as supporting jobs, and so this recognition really has a positive ripple effect.
The discussion ended with Obergefell emphasizing the importance of supporting the Black community and other marginalized communities today – highlighting the power present in storytelling and how it can bring people together. He said that the LGBTQ+ community needs to do a better job of storytelling and harnessing its power to preserve our history and galvanize people to fight for what is right. And alongside this, we also have a duty as allies to use storytelling to amplify the stories of those whose voices are often overlooked.