October 8th, 2013 .

The right story

Max Morden

As a former lawyer, I can imagine how Roberta Kaplan felt when she got the call from Edith Windsor.

Windsor, at 84 years old, is an attractive and well turned out woman who looks like the perfect grandmother. When she was a young woman she met Thea Spyer, and they both fell passionately in love.  In 1967, even though marriage was impossible for same sex couples, Spyer knelt down and proposed.

When Spyer was 45, she was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis. Windsor became Spyer’s nurse and caregiver, devoting her life to making Spyer’s life as comfortable and happy as possible. Windsor says that the “most heartbreaking moment was the day that Thea could no longer put her arm around me.”

They were married in Toronto in 2007, at a point when Spyer’s illness was in its last stages. They came back to their home in New York, feeling very happy about what they had done.  “Marriage is a magic word,” said Windsor at the time. “Thea looks at her ring every day, and thinks of herself as a member of a special species that can love and couple “until death do them part.”

Spyer died in 2009, leaving Windsor her entire estate. Because the Defense of Marriage Act banned same-sex couples from being recognized as “spouses,” she had to pay a very large amount of estate taxes.

Windsor felt this was unfair and contacted a number of gay rights agencies. Although they were sympathetic, they told her it wasn’t the right time in the movement to test the law before the courts.

Kaplan, when she met Windsor, felt otherwise. She had found the perfect plaintiff with the perfect story: a transcendent love that had endured time and hardship.

A good story should be irrelevant to the law, but any lawyer will tell you it isn’t. That being said, a good story can’t win a lawsuit on its own. You also need a lawyer who is well prepared and can argue brilliantly. Kaplan did both, and in June won a landmark decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The same is true for communicators. To effectively get your message across you need to find the right story. But you also have to tell the story right. That’s where we come in.

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