A key litigator who argued and helped defeat the Defense of Marriage Act describes the process, the politics, and the history behind the watershed Supreme Court ruling.
In 2009, private attorney Kaplan agreed to represent Edith Windsor, a former computer programming whiz whose wife of 44 years, Thea Spyer, had recently died. Though the couple had married legally in Canada, their union was not recognized in the United States, leaving Windsor owing thousands of dollars in estate taxes as the sole heir to her late wife’s holdings. Kaplan personalizes the narrative with an account of her coming-out process in 1991 as a Harvard and Columbia University graduate and the daughter of a homophobic mother. The author openly shares the timeline of her own marriage to political activist Rachel Lavine as well as a “rainbow coalition” of gutsy LGBT legal advocates and the many cases incrementally paving the way toward equal rights. Kaplan also fondly recognizes the extraordinary connection she’d previously had with Spyer, who had been her psychotherapist when she was a young lesbian. As the heavily publicized lawsuit proceeded against DOMA, which essentially considered the couple “legal strangers,” Kaplan’s oral arguments before Supreme Court justices, bolstered by Windsor’s affidavits, proved a victorious combination and opened the door for further same-sex equality measures. Equally engaging is the story of the genesis of Windsor and Spyer’s four-decade romance, a love that persevered despite the closeted 1950s era from which it emerged. Published on the heels of the 2015 landmark Supreme Court same-sex marriage legalization ruling, Kaplan’s narrative is accessible and provides a greater understanding and valuing of the great strides and sacrifices made on behalf of same-sex civil rights.
Kaplan delivers a well-rounded, informative, and illuminating perspective on the complexities of nontraditional marriage.