- October 10, 2015
In her new book "Then Comes Marriage", Roberta Kaplan, the lead lawyer in the historic Windsor v. United States Supreme Court case, not only gives an intimate behind-the-scenes account of how she and her team won this landmark case, but also opens up about coming to terms with her sexuality and her emotional coming out experience.
Though they have since reconciled, Kaplan recalls that her mother literally "bang[ed] her head against the wall" when she came out to her parents, and discusses the huge toll that took on their relationship.
"For years, my mother and I had talked almost every day, but since the episode in my apartment, we had not spoken at all. I missed her terribly, but there did not seem to be any way to bridge the enormous rift my coming out had created."
In the book, Kaplan also talks about how difficult the idea of being out, happy and successful seemed in the early nineties, and the "very real reasons to be afraid" to come out at that time.
"For a newly out gay person in 1991, there was little reason to expect that a normal life was possible," she writes. "This was pre-Ellen, pre-Will & Grace, - a time when most gay characters in Hollywood movies tended to be sad, lonely, or dying or all of the above. The AIDS epidemic was raging, the anti-gay Religious Right was gathering steam, and laws still on the books in many states made sexual relationships between gay people a criminal offense."
After coming out, long before challenging the Defense of Marriage Act with Edie Windsor, Kaplan sought help and met Thea Spyer, Edie's late spouse, in 1991. Little did she know, that meeting would lead to the end of DOMA and ultimately, nationwide marriage equality. Kaplan credits Thea for giving her hope that she too could one day have a happy and fulfilled relationship as an open lesbian.
Now happily married to her wife Rachel Lavine, Kaplan's story, ahead of National Coming Out Day, is a reminder of how much more accepting and open the world we live in is today, thanks in great part to countless brave individuals coming out.
As Edie Windsor herself said on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court after her historic case had been heard, when asked to explain the incredible speed of acceptance of LGBT rights: "First one person came out, and then another, and another and another. And straight people suddenly saw us and realized they knew us."
Coming out, whether it's for the first time ever or the first time today, is a deeply personal journey for each individual, and continues to be a powerful tool in the fight for LGBTQ equality.
"Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA" is available everywhere now.
For more information and resources on National Coming Out Day, visit HRC's Coming Out Center and follow the hashtag #ComingOut