PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA — On June 26 of last year, Jim Obergefell’s hard-to-pronounce last name was on the lips of millions of Americans when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor, extending the right to marry to same sex couples across the country.
The decisive victory was cause for much celebration, especially for advocates in the LGBT community like Obergefell, who filed the suit two years earlier so that he could be named on his dying husband’s death certificate in Ohio. And celebrate Obergefell did. In the past year, he has officiated numerous weddings and been honored by President Obama and at countless other events and ceremonies.
The progress made in the LGBT community since the last presidential election certainly warrants celebration. Speaking to ThinkProgress from the Philadelphia Convention Center on the last day of the Democratic National Convention, Obergell called the Democrats’ policy document “the most progressive and supportive platform in our nation’s history” because of its stance on LGBT issues.
But even after half a decade of progress, the LGBT community still faces many forms of discrimination. Obergefell said he has already turned his focus to the remaining battles, including the fight against so-called “religious liberty” bills, passage of non-discrimination protections, and equal rights for transgender people.
Last month, Obergefell testified before a House committee hearing on the federal First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), legislation which would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people and others who offend their “religious belief or moral conviction” that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Over the past year, similar “religious liberty” bills have been introduced, passed, and fought on the state level. Most notably, Indiana, Arkansas, and Georgia all tried, unsuccessfully, to pass “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” legislation. And FADA, the federal equivalent, was introduced last year in both the House and the Senate, and the House held a hearing on the bill last month.
“To propose a bill and to try to make law the ability for any person to say, ‘Well my religious beliefs give me the ability to discriminate against someone else,’ that’s the complete antithesis of religious freedom and it’s the complete antithesis of what the United States stands for,” Obergefell said.
In his testimony before the House, he spoke of a community still grieving from the attack at an Orlando gay nightclub, saying that Congress should focus on how to end this violence and discrimination instead of giving businesses license to single out LGBT people.
“I will fight those as much as I possibly can because where does it end?” he told ThinkProgress. “Those same things were asked for during the Civil Rights movement. It didn’t work then, why should it work now?”
Obergefell’s efforts against these bills are part of a greater fight for full federal nondiscrimination protections, which are still not afforded to LGBT people. He has spoken out on behalf of legislation, like the Equality Act, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the protections that already exist in federal law.
While Obergefell and others are working more broadly to advance LGBT rights at the federal level, many advocates are narrowing their focus to ensure the transgender community doesn’t get left behind.
“Our transgender siblings, they’re in danger and they’re the most vulnerable,” Obergefell said. “It’s good to see much more visibility for our transgender community and more and more people standing up and fighting for them. That’s a really important area for us to concentrate on right now, because they live their lives in fear. And no American should do that.”
North Carolina’s anti-transgender bathroom law has been the focus of much national attention, but many states have floated or already passed similar provisions which would institutionalize discrimination towards transgender Americans, a constituency already facing widespread violence because of their gender identity.
The Democrats’ platform, for the first time ever, called for “ending the crisis of violence against transgender Americans.” And this year, Sarah McBride became the first openly transgender speaker to address either party’s convention.
Other LGBT people, including Obergefell, were also highlighted at the DNC. Obergefell spoke before the LGBT caucus and was asked to read Ohio’s roll call vote. He said many people told him how emotional the moment made them, and he had numerous people — gay and straight — approach him throughout the week to thank him for leading the fight for marriage equality.
“I feel like I’m part of thousands of marriages across the country,” he said. “What a gift.”