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How Roberta Kaplan and Edith Windsor Transformed Marriage for Gay Couples
Social Change | August 07, 2013

How Roberta Kaplan and Edith Windsor Transformed Marriage for Gay Couples

Roberta Kaplan is the lawyer who argued—and won—the Supreme Court case that produced one of the most important civil rights decisions of our time. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman, was declared unconstitutional and the ruling confirmed that gay married couples now have the same rights as straight married couples. Jeffrey Toobin, recapping the Windsor case for the New Yorker, writes that the victory happened “because of the courage of the gay citizens who decided to stand up and fight, especially Edith Windsor . . . and because of the skillful advocacy of their lawyers, notably Roberta Kaplan.” Jonathan Capeheart, writing in the Washington Post about a Q&A he hosted at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City after the victory, called the event "a celebration of three heroines who brought greater dignity and respect to LGBT Americans: Kaplan, Windsor and Spyer."

The Supreme Court case Windsor v. United States—which struck down DOMA—has changed the course of gay rights in America. In this talk, charismatic lead counsel Roberta Kaplan recounts the high-stakes trial and traces the significance of the win. What are the parallels between this case and other historic civil rights cases? Which groups—corporate, community, religious—were instrumental in the victory? What are the immediate and long-term ramifications throughout the country, on college campuses and in corporate America? What’s next? Kaplan answers these vital questions, but, at core, her talk—delivered with gravitas, humor, and deep compassion—is about two people: Edith Windsor and her late wife, Thea Spyer. Their decades-long relationship, Kaplan notes, runs parallel with the changing social, political, legal, and economic context in which gay people lived in the last half century. “The love affair and the marriage that Edie and Thea had is the kind of marriage that any of us, gay or straight or young or old, rich or poor, would be so lucky to have,” Kaplan has said. “And I believed instantaneously that was a story Americans would understand.” This is a powerful talk that will inspire faith in the legal system, and, more importantly, in our collective ability to enact important social change.
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