‘Then Comes Marriage’ humanizes DOMA case for FYI Book Club readers

Attorney Roberta Kaplan (left) and client Edith Windsor.
Attorney Roberta Kaplan (left) and client Edith Windsor. The Associated Press

The Supreme Court’s 2013 landmark “United States v. Windsor” decision, which overturned the law that denied federal benefits to same-sex spouses, continues to stir emotions, and readers of a first-hand account of the case were eager to share their thoughts during the most recent FYI Book Club discussion.

A lively group gathered last month at the LaBudde Special Collections at UMKC’s Miller Nichols Library to review “Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA,” written by lead Windsor attorney Roberta Kaplan and Lisa Dickey. Attendees were also treated to a special viewing of historic objects in the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA) by Stuart Hinds, curator and assistant dean of special collections.

Hinds showed off publications, photos, recordings and other historic artifacts representing the history and culture of the gay community in Kansas City. Readers appreciated the opportunity to see items lending resonance to the story of “Then Comes Marriage.”

The FYI Book Club also was host to longtime couple Raymond Williams and Don Pile of Kansas. Asked how they felt about the changes they have witnessed in the gay community over the years, both men smiled and called themselves fortunate.

“We’ve never had any big problems,” Pile said. “We never tried to hide anything. You just have to be out and be happy with yourself.”

Readers found much to discuss in this examination of the case that brought down the Defense of Marriage Act. Barbara Weary of Kansas City said, “This is the last type of book I’d be interested in reading, and it was wonderful.”

Lucy Terry, also of Kansas City, agreed.

“Robbie Kaplan makes the story human, and (plaintiff) Edie Windsor makes the court case human,” she said. “Robbie is dealing with complicated, hair-splitting legal issues, but she makes us excited about Edie and all the details that humanize the story, especially Robbie’s own coming out to her mother.”

Karen Stigers of Kansas City, Kan., said of the case: “It’s interesting that Kaplan and Windsor appealed to the conservatives by tying the case to taxes.” Sandy Stuart of Kansas City added, “That was the tricky part, bringing in the idea to tie to tax loopholes.”

One reader understood this position but felt conflicted. Alberto Villamandos of Kansas City said, “It was anticlimactic to me. Everything is based on taxes. It’s through the money that you get things changed, but it shouldn’t be about the money.”

Mary Chittim of Blue Springs was surprised at the level of legal detail in the book.

“Before I read this book I had a very cynical view of the culture of law and lawyers,” she said. “As I was reading, I understood how much the lawyers cared about their clients. Everyone at Kaplan’s law firm was on board with this, and so many other groups worked pro bono. It wasn’t about the money; it was about the win because they wanted this for their clients.”

Colette Panchot of Overland Park married her partner six months ago. She said one phrase in the book, “inherent dignity,” resonated in particular.

“One of the biggest rituals in our lives is getting married,” she said. “What a big step forward to participate in one of life’s oldest ceremonies and know that we all are deserving of ‘inherent dignity.’ 

Louisa Whitfield-Smith, Kansas City, Kan., agreed.

“What a different world it is now because of Edie and Roberta,” she said. “It makes you grateful for historic moments like Stonewall and like this court case. Because of all of them, anyone can be married and raise a family.”

Join the club

The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a book-of-the-moment selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. To participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email Look in FYI on Feb. 13 for the introduction to the next selection, “The Muralist” by B.A. Shapiro.