COLUMBIA - Jim Obergefell never expected to become a vocal activist for same-sex marriage.
"I was a very private person and never an activist," he said. "My husband could walk into a room of strangers and talk to anyone. Not me."
But when his husband, John, died in 2013 and Obergefell fought to have his death certificate carry the couple's last name, he was thrust into the national spotlight. His case, Obergefell v. Hodges, was a key step towards same-sex marriage being legalized in the United States.
"To become a face and name of this has changed my life completely," he said. "I find that I don't mind losing some of my anonymity because when people stop me they share a story, say thank you, show me photos, and every time they do, it's a gift. It's a reminder of why my late husband John and I decided to fight."
Obergefell spoke to around 100 Columbia residents and MU students Friday as part of the Bond Life Sciences Center's "Science of Love" symposium.
Obergefell shared his story and talked about the challenges people face when determining how to reveal their sexuality to friends and family.
"I want to let them know, come out, there is nothing better than living your authentic life as who you really are," he said.
He said he hopes gay students who have not revealed their sexuality find strength in his story.
"I want them to feel empowered. To think, okay this person has gone through what they have. They seem happy, they seem content. They seem proud of who they are," he said. "No matter what it is that I said or did, if I can help one kid feel better about themselves, and have that sense of empowerment, then my job is done."
One attendee of Obergefell's talk said he changed her life.
"My wife and I owe him a great debt of gratitude," Rose Hayden said. "Embracing the struggle, living with the struggle, persisting with the struggle, and ultimately creating an opportunity for my wife and I to get married."