by Jenna Gibson

contributing writer

On Nov. 11, Millsaps welcomed the incredible litigator Roberta Kaplan, a woman who has played a huge role in the fight for equality in the LGBT community. Kaplan spoke to the Millsaps community about her life and the historic legal case she played a part in.

Kaplan grew up in Cleveland, Mississippi, before attending Harvard University and then law school at Columbia University. Kaplan came out as a lesbian at the end of law school, and she now has a family with her wife Rachael and son Jacob. In 2013, Kaplan was the leading attorney in the United States v. Windsor case that resulted in the Supreme Court deciding that states have the authority to define marriage relationships and that DOMA undermines that authority. The main argument against gay marriage that she was fighting, Kaplan says, is that [… “people believed that individuals have the choice to be gay, and so it’s okay to discriminate against them because it was their choice.”

In Kaplan’s book, Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA, Kaplan tells the story of Edith (Edie) Windsor and her marriage to Thea Spyer. Edie fell in love with a woman in college, but since this was the 1950s, she knew it wouldn’t be possible for her to carry out that love. So, she married a man shortly after college, but eventually had to tell him that she was a lesbian. Then, Edie met Spyer. They were together for 44 years, and they got engaged in 1967. Thea was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and eventually became a quadriplegic.

Thea and Edie still wanted to get married, so they went to Toronto and tied the knot. Two years later, Thea passed away, and Edie was stuck with a massive state tax bill. Same-sex marriage wasn’t valid under federal law at the time, so the government decided that Edie had inherited all of Thea’s belongings without having any real relationship to her. So, Edie sued, and the Windsor v. United States case came to be. Kaplan got the call, and her team won a huge victory for the LBGT community.

In last Thursday’s panel with Harvey Fiser, Kaplan recalled what the case meant to her and her client: “Edie once said, “It’s one thing to be out, but it’s another thing to be the out lesbian who’s suing the United States of America.’ And being the out lesbian who represented the out lesbian, I guess you can say the same about me.”


Picture is courtesy of Millsaps College Flickr Account.