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Plaintiff in Supreme Court gay marriage case visits Phoenix

PHOENIX — The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of the month on whether states should be allowed to decide for themselves to legalize same-sex marriage or recognize a marriage performed in a state where it is legal.

Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the case, appeared in Phoenix on Monday during a nationwide tour, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. Obergefell told a press conference at Phoenix City Hall that he faces discrimination in his home state of Ohio, which didn’t recognize his marriage that was performed in Maryland.

Obergefell lived with his partner John Arthur for 21 years. Gay marriage isn’t legal in Ohio, so the two men flew to Maryland, where they were married on the airport tarmac. Arthur later died of ALS.

After they were married, the two men sued the state of Ohio to demand that the marriage be recognized on John’s death certificate. The couple won the lawsuit, and the marriage was recognized on the certificate when John died. The state appealed the case two months later.

“To this day, the state where I was born and raised wants nothing more than to erase our relationship of 20 years, and to ignore our lawful marriage,” Obergefell said. He is hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of his case, and said he will continue the fight for marriage equality.

But opponents argued that states should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to recognize same-sex marriage.

“The constitution is silent on the question of the definition of marriage. That means that it’s left to the states to decide” Aaron Baer, a spokesman for the Center for Arizona Policy, said. “In Arizona, 1.2 million voters said that there should be the union of only one man and one woman. Our hope is that the court allows our definition of marriage to stand.”

Baer said that if the Supreme Court rules against the state of Ohio, the decisions of voters across the country wouldn’t matter anymore. “The voters who stood up and said ‘marriage matters between a man and a woman’ and ‘children deserve the best opportunity to have a mom and a dad’ would be silent, and their vote wouldn’t count anymore,” he said.

Obergefell said that even if gays win on the same-sex marriage issue, they are still facing other kinds of discrimination. “To this day, there is still no federal law that says LGBT people cannot be discriminated against in employment, in housing, or in public accommodations,” he said.

Opponents to Phoenix’s anti-discrimination policy said that the ordinance is a waste. They argued that no cases of discrimination against gays have been confirmed since the ordinance was passed in 2013.

But one Valley leader says the ordinance is good for business.

Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, said the ordinance shows that Phoenix is inclusive, which makes the city appealing for business.

“From a business perspective, non-discrimination is an economic growth and sustainability tool,” he said. “It gives Arizona a competitive advantage, and insures that we can attract the best talent, no matter who they are and whom they love.”

Zylstra said that his industry is taking a cue from Phoenix and is including gays in its anti-discrimination ordinance. “In fact, the Arizona Technology Council has added a statewide fully-inclusive non-discrimination policy to our public policy agenda in 2014 and 2015, and expect to do so again in 2016.”

Meanwhile, same-sex marriage became legal in Arizona last year when then-Attorney General Tom Horne decided not to challenge a federal court ruling that struck down the state’s voter-approved gay marriage ban.

There is some indication that same-sex marriage could have a financial benefit to the state; Data released from the Williams Institute at UCLA claimed that allowing gay marriage would boost spending in Arizona by almost $62 million in 3 years.