March 20, 2024

Dear Pitzer Community,

It is my pleasure to announce that Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, will deliver the keynote address to the Class of 2024 at this spring’s Commencement ceremony on May 11.

Jim Obergefell’s personal journey to have his marriage to his longtime partner legally recognized resulted in a decision that is among the most consequential in our nation’s history. He is an iconic figure not only for the LGBTQ+ community, but for us all. As a college deeply rooted in the ethos of social change and equality, Pitzer is especially honored and excited to welcome Jim.

He has described himself as “an accidental activist” from Ohio who found himself and his partner plunged into legal controversy in 2013. After becoming the caregiver for John, his partner of more than 20 years who was diagnosed with ALS, Jim learned he wouldn’t be recognized as the surviving spouse on John’s death certificate because of Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban. 

The couple, who were legally married in Maryland, decided to challenge that ban, and their case eventually went before the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. President Barack Obama hailed the decision as “a victory for America.”

Tragically, the decision did not come before John died of his illness. In the book Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality, Jim joined with Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Debbie Cenziper to chronicle the couple’s story.

Since the Court’s decision, Jim has continued his activism on behalf of civil rights for all. With last year’s overturning of the decision in the abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, and with ongoing challenges to marriage equality in a number of states, he has sounded a warning that the fight for privacy rights is far from over.

I look forward to hearing more of Jim’s compelling story of his work in promotion of greater equality and civil liberties in the United States. See you there!

Provida Futuri,

Strom C. Thacker

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