Love Wins is a both a beautiful love story and an inspirational story of a David and Goliath legal battle that changed the course of US legal history.
It’s the story of what happened after Jim Obergefell fell in love with John Arthur, but it’s also the story of how much impact individuals and those in the law community can have by their small and large actions that can affect change for thousands, possibly millions, of people and even change the legal landscape of a whole nation.
Jim and John lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, a place they loved even though at this time it wasn’t the most ideal place for a gay couple to be living. It was known for its conservative and often outmoded laws where those in the gay community were still severely discriminated against. A person could lose their job simply for being gay and this was as recently as the 1990s.
When John Arthur became sick with ALS, a crippling neurodegenerative disease that would certainly result in death, the couple thought seriously about marriage. But the state of Ohio didn’t recognise same sex marriage and after John’s death, Jim would not be recognised as John’s spouse.
By the time John and Jim determined to marry in the state of Maryland where same-sex marriage had been recognised, John was so ill that he was unable to walk and interstate travel by the regular modes was impossible. So in a dramatic turn of events, the couple flew in a small plane to Maryland and and in a beautiful scene, exchanged vows on the plane, with John’s beloved aunt Paulette officiating (pictured below right). Their buoyant mood couldn’t last though. On their return to Ohio Jim discovered that after John’s death, their union would remain unrecognised – according to John’s death certificate, in the eyes of state law, their union would be non-existent.
At this point, civil rights lawyer, Al Gerhardstein (pictured below left with Jim Obergefell) found out about their predicament. Gerhardstein had long worked on behalf of unpopular causes in Ohio, most notably abortion clinics and LGBT cases. Gerhardstein was eager to challenge the state on behalf of Jim so that he could be listed on John’s death certificate in a move that would set a precedent for future cases.
This led to the landmark case – Obergefell v. Hodges – that resulted in the United States Supreme Courting ruling that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
While this is a hugely significant book in the area of civil, and particularly gay rights, it’s also a moving and intriguing human interest story of Obergefell and his now deceased partner John Arthur, that takes us right back to their childhoods and early courtship. And another human interest running alongside Jim and John’s case is that of the lawyer Gerhardstein who had spent years working on such cases, with his own gay brother having experienced discrimination too. It also touches of the plight of couples throughout the country – many of them with children – whose marriages were unrecognised.
There’s much about the law and the detailed legal proceedings that’s made accessible through the personal story and the suspense behind the events, combined with the skilful writing from Obergefell and Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist Debbie Cenziper so that this book will appeal to all readers interested in this most timely issue – especially here in Australia right now.