Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case that made marriage equality the law of the land, is publicly calling out Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who’s been resisting that ruling.
Writing what the American Civil Liberties Union labeled “an open letter” on Wednesday, the 49-year-old Ohioan pleaded with Davis to “not stand in the way of others seeking their legal right to have their love recognized.”
“You’re imposing the same indignities on couples in Rowan County, [Kentucky,] that John and I suffered when Ohio would not legally recognize us as a married couple,” said Obergefell of his late husband, John Arthur. “Thankfully, the law is now changed so that nobody should ever have to experience the injustice that John and I endured.”
“No one is above the law, Kim,” he wrote, “not even you.”
Obergefell was one of dozens of plaintiffs who earlier this year successfully challenged four states’ same-sex marriage bans in the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The 5-4 decision in that case found that such bans violated gay and lesbian people’s guarantee to equal protection under the 14th Amendment, effectively invalidating all remaining laws that either prohibited same-sex couples from marrying, or – as in Obergefell’s case – prevented states from recognizing same-sex marriages solemnized in jurisdictions where it was legal.
Immediately after that ruling, however, Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses to all couples – gay and straight – based on her religious objection to same-sex nuptials. She spent five full days in jail for refusing to comply with a federal court order that she issue the licenses, and since being released, has altered the licenses issued by her deputies so that they no longer bear her name, title or authority. Last week, Davis met secretly with Pope Francis, who reportedly told her to “stay strong,” according to her account of the meeting.
Echoing the pope’s famous “Who am I to judge?” remarks, which in 2013 signaled to many a potential shift within the Catholic Church on the issue of gay rights, Obergefell told Davis it was not fair for her, or anyone else, to judge other people’s relationships.
“It’s your job to simply do your job,” he said.
In 2013, Obergefell married his longtime partner, John Arthur, on the tarmac of an airport in Maryland, one of the few states where same-sex couples could legally wed at the time. But the state of Ohio – where the couple lived – refused to list Obergefell as the spouse on Arthur’s death certificate after he succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease. Soon after, Obergefell sued and, eventually, won at the nation’s highest court.
“I earned the right to lawfully call him my husband, just as you have a right to call your husband such,” wrote Obergefell in his letter to Davis. “Love transcends gender.”
Read Obergefell’s letter in full:
Dear Kim Davis:
As you may know, when you fall in love with someone, you hand your heart and soul over to them. Anyone who has committed to sharing their life with another human and forming a family unit knows that it is the biggest and most rewarding adventure you will ever take.
You know that all of the laughs and all of the tears won’t fall on the echo of an empty room, but will instead be received in the warm embrace of someone who has pledged to see you at your best and love you at your worst. You know that person is there to help pick you up on those days when the odds are stacked against you. You know that you never have to do the dishes alone.
When I met John, I had no idea that I would spend the next two decades building a life with the man who would one day inspire me to demand our right to be recognized by our country. I earned the right to lawfully call him my husband, just as you have a right to call your husband such. Love transcends gender.
You’re imposing the same indignities on couples in Rowan County that John and I suffered when Ohio would not legally recognize us as a married couple. Thankfully, the law is now changed so that nobody should ever have to experience the injustice that John and I endured. No one is above the law, Kim, not even you.
I joined the fight to have our love treated equally precisely because our love is equal. The love that any family shares is no more or less worthy than that of any other, and it’s not fair for you, or anyone, to judge. It’s your job to simply do your job. Issuing a marriage license at work is not a personal endorsement of my marriage any more than recording a deed is an endorsement of my home ownership.
It’s simply following the rules in this civil society in which we’ve all agreed to be members.
What truly matters is the kindness and compassion we share with our families and with those around us. Love makes a family. And as of June 2015 the federal government agrees.
I did not fight for my right to call John my husband in vain. I stand today in his memory and proudly declare him my legally wedded spouse. Do not stand in the way of others seeking their legal right to have their love recognized.
Jim Obergefell for ACLU Action