Book review: Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality, by Debbie Cenziper & Jim Obergefell

cenziper-love-winsCenziper, Debbie & Jim Obergefell. Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality. William Morrow, 2016. HC.$27.99. ISBN 978-0062456083.

The Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling making same-sex marriage the law of the land has ushered in a mini-spate of books and documentaries from participants and witnesses involved in both that landmark decision and the supplementary cases surrounding it. Love Wins is arguably among the best of the bunch.

Jim Obergefell and John Arthur were a loving, committed couple for over 20 years in Cincinnati, Ohio, where same-sex marriage was not even on the legal radar. When John was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, they decided to formalize their relationship for however long a time remained to them. They flew to Maryland where, due to John’s condition, their marriage ceremony took place on a specially-equipped medical transport plane.

However, after John’s death in 2013, Jim learned that Ohio would not reciprocally recognize their legal Maryland union, and thus John would be classified as “single” on his death certificate. This final blow tipped the scales of grief for Obergefell, and he determined to somehow take action on behalf of his late spouse, to whom being married to Jim meant everything.

Enter Al Gerhardstein, a married-with-grandchildren long-time civil rights attorney. He and Jim began a journey which would eventually include cadres of lawyers, and, at least, three couples in other states also seeking the same legal guarantees and societal respect for their relationships that Jim and John would have welcomed. These participants’ personal and judicial struggles form a large portion of this book’s compelling narrative.

It has perhaps become cliché to say that a nonfiction book “reads like a novel,” but this one indeed does, and in totally positive ways. (To quote from the text: “Every civil rights case starts with a story.”) Cenzier and Obergefell do a fine job in bringing the moral and legal issues involved in Obergefell v. Holmes to life for the lay reader, as excess “legalese” never threatens their story’s flow. Their efforts result in an engrossing, deeply moving tale in which love and fairness are the predominating themes. As Jim Obergefell told reporters after the 2015 Supreme Court decision: “I simply think of myself as someone who was lucky enough to…keep my promises to the man I loved.”

This book is highly recommended for all general and LGBT nonfiction and “legal” collections. Well done.

Cathy Ritchie
Acquisitions/Selection Services
Dallas (TX) Public Library

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