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<em>Fortune</em>'s Most Powerful Women: Arianna Huffington talks to Roberta Kaplan
Social Change | October 18, 2013

Fortune's Most Powerful Women: Arianna Huffington talks to Roberta Kaplan

In 2013, social change speaker Roberta Kaplan won the Supreme Court case that produced one of the most important civil rights decisions of our time—striking down the Defense Of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. At Fortune's "The Most Powerful Women Conference" this month, publishing powerhouse Arianna Huffington talked with Kaplan about her experience working on the highly talked about case. "I want us to just stop for a moment and recognize that this gets in the history books," Huffington says of Kaplan's victory, "alongside the Emancipation Proclamation, The Civil Rights Act, and all the big milestones in America's journey towards a perfect union."

In the talk, Huffington asks Kaplan to recount the hardships, victories, and important moments leading up to the case. Multiple times during the discussion, Kaplan's responses elicited cheers and applause from the audience. One thing Kaplan recalls about working on Windsor v. United States was how fast change occurred. "The pace of change, particularly in the last several years, with respect to gay rights has been dramatically rapid and we really haven't experienced anything like this before," she says. In fact, Kaplan points out that within a year of filing the case in 2010, a bill had been passed through the legislature in New York allowing gay couples to marry. "When I argued the case in March there were nine states—when the case was decided in June there were 13 states," she tells the crowded room. "That's a very good example of the pace of the change."

Above: Arianna Huffington (left) talks to Roberta Kaplan (right) at Fortune's "The Most Powerful Women Conference"

Kaplan also says it's important to note that the word "dignity" was used in the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to strike down DOMA. "The supreme court and its opinion, Justice Kennedy's opinion for the court, used the word dignity 10 times in 26 pages," she recalls. "I decided to look it up, it means, according to the dictionary, the state or quality of being worthy of respect." Declaring that gay people and their relationships are deserving of dignity and respect was a landslide victory, she says. "Legally speaking, I think it's all over but the shouting," Kaplan says. "I think that the Battle of Normandy in terms of the gay rights struggle has been won." Admittedly there are still many changes that need to take place, and many laws to overturn. It will take some time, but Kaplan is hopeful that the hardest part is now in the past and achieving equal rights for gay people across the country is on the horizon.

In Kaplan's powerful keynotes, she inspires faith in the legal system, and, more importantly, in our collective ability to enact important social change. She delivers her lectures with gravitas, humor, and deep compassion, and shows audiences how the case was won, what the historic victory means for us today, and, what's next. To book Roberta Kaplan for a speaking engagement, contact The Lavin Agency.
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