The life rights of Jim Obergefell have been acquired by Fox 2000, in a swift move to bring the story of his fight for marriage equality to the screen. The studio also snapped up the rights to the book Obergefell has written with journalist Debbie Cenziper, titled 21 Years To Midnight, which has yet to hit bookshops. It was the case brought by Obergefell (Obergefell v Hodges) which led to the historic ruling by the U.S Supreme Court, legalizing same-sex marriage throughout America and, by extension, finally making the matrimonial qualifier ‘same-sex’ obsolete.
James Obergefell and his partner, John Arthur, married in Maryland in June 2013, after the U.S Supreme Court declared the Defence Of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional due to its determination that the term ‘spouse’ only applied to unions between a man and a woman.
Obergefell and Arthur resided in Ohio, however, and found that their home state refused to recognize their marriage – prompting the couple to file the lawsuit Obergefell v Kasich (the 69th Governor of Ohio). John Arthur was terminally ill with ALS and the couple wished for James Obergefell to be identified as his spouse on the death certificate. When this was blocked, a lengthy legal battle ensued that would address one of the most significant civil rights issues of modern times.
John Arthur died in October 2013 and the legal wrangling continued, while another case – Henry v Wymyslo – was also being fought in the same jurisdiction. It argued for the right of same-sex couples married in other states to be listed equally as parents on the birth certificates of their children. The defendant in the Obergefell case, meanwhile, was substituted a number of times during its course to judgement, with its final version – Obergefell V Hodges – reflecting the appointment of Richard Hodges as Health Director of Ohio.
Civil rights lawyer Mary Bonauto and Washington D.C lawyer Douglas Hallward-Dreimeier represented the plaintiff, while U.S Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. represented the United States in support of the plaintiff. Former Michigan Solicitor General John J Bursch and Joseph R. Whalen represented the states in question. The final ruling, which arrived on June 26th, 2015, was split 5-4 in favour of the plaintiff.
“The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that liberty.
“The Fourteenth Amendment requires States to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed out of state.”
This was a seismic event in the history of America, and as such, it is of no surprise that Hollywood seeks to commit the achievement to celluloid as quickly as possible. While little is known about the personnel Fox will be assembling for the Obergefell film, it is easy to assume that it will be of a very high profile and, as such, will attract the attention of world-renowned talent.
Being in the very earliest stages of development, it will likely not find itself in direct commercial competition with Freeheld – the biographical drama starring Ellen Page and Julianne Moore that focuses on the battle for pension benefits faced by New Jersey police lieutenant Laurel Hester and her domestic partner, Stacie Andree. Instead, these projects become a much-needed part of a step toward equality onscreen, as well as off.