A gay man diagnosed with a terminal illness was able to marry his partner of over 20 years, but their journey down the aisle — or rather, the runway — sadly illustrates the struggles same-sex couples face in post-DOMA America.
Cincinnati couple Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, both 47, fell in “love at third sight” at a New Year’s Eve party in 1992. Though they exchanged rings seven months later, the two men never expected to legally wed. All that changed when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Jim and John decided to marry, out of love for each other but also out of necessity.
According to Cincinnati.com, John “is bedridden with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a progressive neurological disease that robs patients of their ability to walk, talk and eventually breathe.” John was diagnosed with the incurable disease 26 months ago, which kills most patients within two to five years. His rapid decline added both urgency and complexity to their matrimonial plans:
Health insurance had been an ongoing issue for the couple, as some employers allowed them to share a policy and others didn’t. But insurance and other health-related matters suddenly took on added significance. Still reeling from the news, they had to prepare powers of attorney and other legal documents designed to circumvent the kinds of problems every unmarried couple fears.
They decided to sell their two-story condo and move to a single story, and they put the new place in Obergefell’s name alone to avoid any future probate problems. Obergefell’s employer has allowed him to work from home, but he has had no protection under the federal Family Medical Leave Act.
Even with the fall of DOMA, there’s no guarantee that Jim and John would be entitled to all of the benefits of a federally-recognized marriage since some rights are dependent on where a couple lives. Still, they had met and had built their lives in Cincinnati. And it was too late to move now, not that they would’ve anyway for fear of losing their “social base.”
The couple considered marrying in several of the marriage equality states, before settling on Maryland because it required only one partner present to acquire the license. John, however, would require a medical transport plane for the actual ceremony, as he had been unable to leave his home since March. As a patient of Crossroads Hospice, he was given the gift of a “perfect day” — a chance to fulfill a final wish — and they could provide certain services, but not the cost of renting the plane.
Luckily, friends, family, co-workers — and even someone they’d met once in Ireland on a cruise — stepped in and donated towards the $12,700 cost of the trip. On Thursday, July 11, after an hour and 10 minute flight to Baltimore, Jim and John were wed in a 7 1/2 minute ceremony at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
John’s aunt, Paulette Roberts, married them. When she was ordained to perform weddings, Paulette called her nephew and told him, “I would go anywhere, anytime to officiate at his and Jim’s marriage.” They were only in Maryland for 56 minutes, but they returned to Cincinnati as husband and husband. What that will mean in Ohio is still up for debate, but for Jim and John it’s a cause of immense happiness in the limited time they have together.
“I’m overjoyed,” John said. “I’m very proud to be an American and be able to openly share my love for the record. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”
Grab a box of Kleenex and watch the video of John and Jim’s bittersweet nuptials below: