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Then Comes Marriage by Roberta Kaplan: "I am the Jewish lesbian from New York who's going to win this case"

Roberta Kaplan is the lawyer who the LGBT population and its opposition watched unswervingly as she took the case of United States v. Windsor all the way to the Supreme Court in 2013, ultimately arguing for and achieving the striking down of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited gay and lesbian married couples from being recognized at the federal level, thereby denying them Social Security benefits, joint tax filing, military pensions for bereaved spouses, and over 1000 other rights given to all other married couples in the United States.

Then Comes Marriage is necessary to a nation that is already taking marriage equality for granted. For LGBT citizens, this may be a self-protective instinct. There was so much heartache and disappointment, so many horrible things said, and a seemingly insurmountable wall of majority disapproval, that forgetting it seems the best way to move on. But if we remember how hard it was to get here, we treasure it all the more.

Kaplan's book takes you through the emotions you felt during the fight for marriage equality (or makes you feel them for the first time). It reminded me of the best and worst moments of that time, while adding immense depth to the experience by talking about what was going on behind the scenes as Kaplan and her team at the law firm Paul, Weiss -- in conjunction with several LGBT rights groups -- figured out how they could win their case for 84-year-old Edie Windsor and, by extension, LGBT people across the country.

Kaplan (and co-writer Lisa Dickey) interweave Kaplan's own coming out experience with the history of LGBT rights in America, culminating in her meeting with Edie Windsor, as the recent widow fought an estate tax of over $360,000 that the federal government said she had to pay. DOMA barred her marriage to Thea Spyer from being recognized.

This marriage.

I knew the outcome of the case and could quote from the oral arguments and I still felt anxious while reading about it. I felt like I was right back in the midst of constantly alternating between joy and nail-biting -- one of the greatest moments of said joy being during oral arguments when Justice Kagan brought up the 1996 House Report to the lawyer defending DOMA (Paul Clement). After stating that

So we have a whole series of cases which suggest the following, which suggest that when Congress targets a group that is not everybody's favorite group in the world, that we look at those cases with some -- even if they're not suspect -- with some rigor to say do we really think that Congress was doing this for uniformity reasons, or do we think that Congress' judgment was infected by dislike, by fear, by animus, and so forth?

Clement works hard to backpedal from that, and then Kagan drops this:

[W]hat happened in 1996 -- and I'm going to quote from the House Report here -- is that Congress decided to "reflect and honor a collective moral judgment" and to express "moral disapproval of homosexuality." Is that what happened in 1996?

How do you answer that. You can't. An absolute gasp goes up from the courtroom at that moment. That is how far we had come from 1996 to 2013.

This was, of course, made eminently clear when Justice Kennedy issued his majority opinion on June 26, 2013, where he spoke of the "equal dignity" of same-sex marriage, and declared Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional.

Reading about the decision once again made me think of people like Anne Lister, Oscar Wilde, Frances Willard, Rock Hudson, and countless others throughout the centuries who had to hide part of who they were and could not receive the honor due to the relationships they had with the people they loved. Striking down Section 3 of DOMA was a key part of giving a long-marginalized and abused group of Americans their right to equality. Marriage is "a personal promise that is shared with the community," and as of 2013, the United States government recognized that and stated its LGBT citizens deserved to celebrate that promise just as much as anyone else.

I cried throughout this book. Occasionally from sadness, more often from joyful remembrances. I think the best note to end on is Edie Windsor's response to why there was a "sea change" in American opinion regarding gay marriage.

"Some brave person woke up one morning and said, 'I'm gay' ... and then another person did it, and then another..."

Let's never forget that.


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