By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun
10:03 AM EDT, July 15, 2013
The small chartered medical jet landed at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and taxied to a stop, and there on the tarmac, inside the jet, two men from Ohio were finally together in a state where they could wed.
And that's exactly what they did.
On Thursday morning, Jim Obergefell married his partner of more than 20 years, John Arthur, whose battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, has left him unable to travel except under special, medically-supported conditions.
The jet, which friends and family rallied together to help pay for to get the couple to Maryland, provided that.
"For once in our 20 years together, we really feel like full Americans," Obergefell said of his and Arthur's marriage in an interview this week.
The airport ceremony was the culmination of a whirlwind couple of weeks of logistical planning since the U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled unconstitutional a key provision of the law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in state's where such unions are legal.
Maryland is one of those states; Ohio is not.
The Cincinnati couple, both 47, watched the news of the court's decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act at their home. Obergefell turned to Arthur. "I just hugged him and said, 'Let's get married.'"
A year ago, that would have been much easier. Arthur, who was diagnosed with ALS in May 2011, had more mobility then, but his condition has heavily deteriorated in the last six months, Obergefell said.
The disease was a major obstacle to traveling to Maryland, but also an added incentive, Obergefell said.
"We know we have very limited time left together," he said. "It was still hard and it took a lot out of him, but we knew we had to make this happen."
Obergefell put out a message on Facebook, asking friends for ideas or connections they had that might help Arthur and him get to a state where they could wed. They thought New York, the closest state to drive to, but another friend suggested Maryland.
Maryland allows just one member of a couple to pick up a marriage license, a necessary step prior to any ceremony, while New York does not, Obergefell said -- so the couple shifted their focus, not wanting Arthur to have to travel twice.
At the same time, friends and family members began donating money to the couple's cause in an overwhelming show of support, he said. They eventually raised enough to cover the bulk of the $13,600 cost of the jet, he said.
On Tuesday, Obergefell flew to BWI and then drove to Annapolis to get the license before flying back to Cincinnati.
On Thursday, the couple's hospice service, Crossroads Hospice, drove Arthur in an ambulance to a local airport in Cincinnati, and the couple boarded the special jet along with Arthur's aunt, Paulette Roberts.
Once they landed in Baltimore, Roberts performed the ceremony aboard the jet. The entire trip and ceremony was covered by Cincinnati.com.
"Today is a momentous day, not only in the lives of two of the most loving and special men I have ever known, [but] also in the lives of all who know, love and respect them," Roberts said, speaking to the couple in the tight quarters of the aircraft, as captured by the news outlet on film. "And, in the larger sense, for those Americans who have waited to be recognized as equal under the law and in matters of the heart."
"For the past 20 years, six months and 11 days, it's been love at every sight," Obergefell said to Arthur during the ceremony.
After they exchanged rings and kissed, and the ceremony concluded, the couple flew back to Cincinnati, where a small group of friends and family met them.
"I'm overjoyed. I'm very proud to be an American and be able to openly share my love for the record," Arthur said. "And I feel like the luckiest guy in the world."
The couple spent the weekend at home, Obergefell said.
"It was a few days of just the two of us being at home, reveling in our marriage," he said. "Our use of the word 'husband' has skyrocketed. It just feels good."
With travel so difficult, the couple has no plans for a honeymoon.
"There's nothing like that in the cards, but it doesn't matter," Obergefell said.
Moving forward, Obergefell said he plans to fight to repeal the amendment banning same-sex marriage in Ohio. But Maryland will always be a special place for him and Arthur.
"Maryland's our home now in our hearts," he said.
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