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Jim Obergefell, lead plaintiff in landmark same-sex marriage case, running for Ohio state seat

Obergefell, who was at the center of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, is running for the Ohio House seat that includes his hometown of Sandusky.

Jim Obergefell speaks during the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony, July 4, 2015, in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Jim Obergefell, the gay rights advocate at the center of the 2015 landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States, is running for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Obergefell, a Democrat who has long described himself as an “accidental activist” after he gained national attention for his fight against Ohio laws banning same-sex marriage, announced his candidacy Tuesday. In an announcement video, Obergefell highlighted his work taking the fight for marriage rights to the Supreme Court, saying he doesn’t “mind being the underdog.”

Obergefell, who grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, is running for the state’s 89th House District, which includes his hometown and is held by D.J. Swearingen (R). The activist has previously lived in Cincinnati and moved to Sandusky in June.

How Jim Obergefell became the face of the Supreme Court gay marriage case

In an interview with The Washington Post, Obergefell said that running for office always was in the back of his mind, starting during the marriage equality case. Many around him encouraged him to do so, he said. It was moving back to his hometown to be with his family that finally swayed him to run for office.

“For people who want to do the right things, who are dedicated to public service for the right reasons, I just feel like it’s time for us to stand up and to run for office and to do what we can to make things better for everyone,” he said.

Obergefell first gained national attention when he and his partner, John Arthur, were not able to get married in Ohio, their home state, because of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The two decided to wed in Maryland in 2013 after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, but that wasn’t the end of their fight.

Arthur was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Ohio law meant Obergefell wouldn’t be able to be listed as Arthur’s surviving spouse on his death certificate. Obergefell then sued Ohio, setting up a legal fight that took him before the Supreme Court along with three other lawsuits that became Obergefell v. Hodges. On June 26, 2015, the court ruled that same-sex couples could exercise the fundamental right to marry.

Supreme Court rules gay couples nationwide have a right to marry

Republicans have controlled Ohio’s 89th District for the past eight years, but Obergefell said he was not concerned about past elections.

“I want to make this district better for everyone, regardless of party,” he said, emphasizing that he was focused on increasing opportunities for residents so they would not feel the need to leave home in search of better-paying jobs. He also said he would prioritize the conservation of Lake Erie, which he said is vitally important for the region.

Although Obergefell, a teacher of German, has never held public office, he said he would take lessons from his fight for marriage equality into office, namely that Americans “are a lot more alike than we are different.” He noted that, despite everything, he’s still friends with Richard Hodges, the titular defendant in the civil rights case.

“Over time, just during that case, finding allies and supporters in the most unlikely of places, that’s a great thing,” he said. “And that’s one of the things that I’ve learned. . . . You never know where you’re going to connect with someone, where you’re going to find common ground, and that’s what I’ll work for.”