Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Harry Potter 2013 Readalong Signup Post of Amazingness and Jollity

Okay, people. Here it is. Where you sign up to read the entire Harry Potter series (or to reminisce fondly), starting January 2013, assuming we all survive the Mayan apocalypse. I don't think I'm even going to get to Tina and Bette's reunion on The L Word until after Christmas, so here's hopin'. You guys know how this works. Sign up if you want to. If you're new to the blog, know that we are mostly not going to take this seriously. And when we do take it seriously, it's going to be all Monty Python quotes when we disagree on something like the other person's opinion on Draco Malfoy. So be prepared for your parents being likened to hamsters. If you want to write lengthy, heartfelt essays, that is SWELL. But this is maybe not the readalong for you. It's gonna be more posts with this sort of thing: We're starting Sorceror's/Philosopher's Stone January 4th. Posts will be on Fridays. The first post will be some sort of hilar

Minithon: The Mini Readathon, January 11th, 2020

The minithon is upon us once more! Minithons are for the lazy. Minithons are for the uncommitted. Minithons are for us. The minithon lasts 6 hours (10 AM to 4 PM CST), therefore making it a mini readathon, as opposed to the lovely Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon and 24in48, both of which you should participate in, but both of which are a longer commitment than this, the Busy Watching Netflix person's readathon. By 'read for six hours' what's really meant in the minithon is "read a little bit and eat a lot of snacks and post pictures of your books and your snacks, but mostly your snacks." We like to keep it a mini theme here, which mainly means justifying your books and your snacks to fit that theme. Does your book have children in it? Mini people! Does it have a dog! Mini wolf! Does it have pencils? Mini versions of graphite mines! or however you get graphite, I don't really know. I just picture toiling miners. The point is, justify it or don't

How to Build a Girl Introductory Post, which is full of wonderful things you probably want to read

Acclaimed (in England mostly) lady Caitlin Moran has a novel coming out. A NOVEL. Where before she has primarily stuck to essays. Curious as we obviously were about this, I and a group of bloggers are having a READALONG of said novel, probably rife with spoilers (maybe they don't really matter for this book, though, so you should totally still read my posts). This is all hosted/cared for/lovingly nursed to health by Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads) because she has a lovely fancy job at an actual bookshop ( Odyssey Books , where you can in fact pre-order this book and then feel delightful about yourself for helping an independent store). Emily and I have negotiated the wonders of Sri Lankan cuisine and wandered the Javits Center together. Would that I could drink with her more often than I have. I feel like we could get to this point, Emily INTRODUCTION-wise (I might've tipped back a little something this evening, thus the constant asides), I am Alice. I enjoy