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Last night at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Edie Windsor shared her story about her fight for marriage equality in discussion with Roberta Kaplan, her lawyer who won her federal case, and comedian Judy Gold, who moderated the event.
Translating the 44-year love story, one that Justice Ginsburg described as “a great partnership,” into a legal case intended to dismantle DOMA was Kaplan’s biggest challenge. Having worked on marriage equality cases since 1994, she knew that Windsor “[couldn’t] sue the federal government on principle.” Instead, the case had to be about taxes—specifically, the $363,000 that Windsor was taxed solely because her marital union was same-sex.
“I told Edie she couldn’t talk about sex,” Kaplan admitted to the audience. Focusing on the economic discrimination ensured support from fiscal conservatives, which Windsor’s team widely received in the myriad of amicus briefs filed on their behalf.
(Windsor, however, was determined to talk about sex later during the discussion, when she told a fantastic tale about how she only fully realized she was gay after meeting Thea. She couldn’t know for sure, she said, because she “was surrounded by Freudians” who discredited lesbianism by claiming that “you can’t really come unless you come vaginally.”)
At the same time, Kaplan’s other strategy was to focus on the individual. In past cases, including the Prop 8 federal case, a collective of same-sex couples jointly sued the government. This resulted, Kaplan explained, in the “loss of the individual and of the individual story”—the magnitude of marriage equality on individual life was denuded by the collective effort. Therefore, her motto, appropriated from the ’90s Clinton Era and affixed to her computer screen on a post-it note, was “It’s all about Edie, stupid.”
For Windsor, she was initially “terrified” to see the court docket with the running title, “Windsor v. the United States,” especially after Ariel Levy’s article in the New Yorker that began with a line quoted from Windsor, “Fuck the Supreme Court!” Acknowledging that she enjoyed the piece and that she did indeed utter the regrettable line, Windsor could only laugh and put her face in her hands as she recounted the moment reading Levy’s article.
Narrating the scene of the trial, Windsor gleefully described meeting Nancy Pelosi and revealed that she felt victory was hers after Justice Kennedy commented on the 40,000 children in California who were parented by same-sex couples.
At the end of the night, Kaplan emphasized the necessity of the community’s continue activism for marriage equality. Intimating an awareness of anti-neo-liberalist critiques of the left, she explained that “being gay is about who we love,” which is why marriage equality is so crucial: it is the socio-political structure that legitimizes us socially and politically. So, yes, it is critical not just for visibility but for legal equality.