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In Her Own Words: Roberta Kaplan Remembers How DOMA Fell

In Her Own Words: Roberta Kaplan Remembers How DOMA Fell

In Her Own Words: Roberta Kaplan Remembers How DOMA Fell

The civil rights attorney was honored at the Makers conference this weekend.


Powerhouse attorney Roberta Kaplan is telling the story of why she took Edie Windsor's case, of her proudest moment facing the nine justices of the Supreme Court, and where she was when she finally heard news of the ruling.

The Windsor case led to section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act being struck down. And it's been cited since in a rash of decisions in favor of LGBT people.

Watch her interview in the video above, created as part of the Makers series, which celebrates women who are role models. Kaplan spoke during the annual Makers conference held this weekend. Read a transcript of that speech as provided by Makers:

"It is all too easy, in today's world of Twitter, of Fox News and Politico, to become cynical, to assume that it’s all one big inside game, and that nothing ever gets decided on the merits, but for other, less-principled reasons. I'd like to offer the case of United States v. Edith Windsor as an antidote to that kind of cynicism.

What Windsor means is that the United States Constitution matters. The great Supreme Court Justice, feminist, and women’s rights advocate Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said that the Windsor decision reflects the ‘genius’ of our Constitution. And of course, as per usual, Justice Ginsburg is 100% right. And if you’ll forgive my local bias, I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that the Windsor case was won by two Jewish lesbians from New York City.

In his opinion for the Court in Windsor, Justice Kennedy uses the word 'dignity' 11 times in 23 pages. According to the dictionary, the word ‘dignity’ means ‘the quality or status of being worthy of honor or respect.’ Sometimes, it’s the simplest and most obvious things that say the most. At its core, what Windsor stands for is the incredibly simple, yet incredibly powerful proposition that every single one of us has equal dignity and that that dignity must be respected under the law. So in one sense, the dramatic change that we have seen with respect to civil rights for gay people is extraordinary.

When I argued Windsor last March, for example, only nine states permitted gay couples to marry. Today, I'm thrilled to be able to say that 17 states (comprising 41% of the American population) do, and that Nevada, Virginia, Pennsylvania and (believe it or not) Oklahoma and Utah, all relying on Windsor, are likely to join that group very soon. My friend and colleague Pam Karlan likes to say that Windsor is the ‘gift that keeps on giving.’ No other group of previously 'second-class' citizens or, to use Justice Ginsberg’s phrase, ‘skim-milk citizens’ has experienced that kind of change that fast.

On the other hand, the near constant wave of change that we have seen in the wake of Windsor is really not that surprising when you really think about it. After all, the fact that all Americans, including, as President Obama said, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, are equal under the law, while totally obvious today, has actually been staring us in the face all along. ... Our goal should be to make women's equality as obvious and uncontroversial today as gay equality is."


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