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Roberta Kaplan, counsel in landmark marriage equality case, to speak at IU Maurer School of Law

March 23, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan, who served as counsel in a landmark civil rights case that found part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, will present a lecture on Thursday, March 26, at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law Moot Court Room.

“Defeating DOMA: United States v. Windsor and the Future of Marriage Equality” will take place at noon and is open to the public.

Kaplan represented Edith Windsor, a New York resident who had married her partner, Thea Spyer, in Canada. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor sought to claim a federal tax exemption for surviving spouses. However, she was prevented from doing so under Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for all federal purposes as between a man and woman.

Windsor filed suit in late 2010, challenging the constitutionality of the law. In 2013, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held Section Three unconstitutional. The ruling was hailed as a major victory in the fight for the rights of same-sex couples.

In the wake of the Windsor decision, the U.S. government broadly expanded the recognition of same-sex marriages. Coincidentally, the day after Kaplan’s presentation, the U.S. Department of Labor will implement its final rule expanding the definition of “spouse,” providing partners in same-sex marriages the same rights and protections under the Family Medical Leave Act as heterosexual couples.

Kaplan will be introduced by Maurer School of Law associate professor Steve Sanders. Kaplan and Sanders are co-counsel, along with University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter, on an amicus brief for the Human Rights Campaign in the marriage equality cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. In those cases, the court will decide whether the remaining state-level bans on same-sex are constitutional.

Kaplan’s visit is being sponsored by the American Constitution Society, Outlaw, IU GLBT Alumni Association, Maurer LGBT Alumni Advisory Board, LGBT Project, Black Law Students Association, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, National Lawyers Guild and Feminist Law Forum. Kaplan's visit to Bloomington is made possible by the Harmony School-Deborah Meier Institute for Democracy and Equity in Education and the IU School of Education.

Kaplan will also take part in a panel discussion at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, for the formal kickoff of the Harmony-Meier Institute, a collaboration between the IU School of Education, the Harmony Education Center in Bloomington and IU’s Lilly Library. The institute's mission is to proliferate the values and practice of democracy and equity in education.