Hopkins to give honorary degrees to DOMA plaintiff, attorney

Johns Hopkins University will bestow an honorary degree next month on Edith "Edie" Windsor, the woman who successfully challenged the constitutionality of the federal law banning same-sex marriage.

Windsor's attorney in last year's historic U.S. Supreme Court victory, Roberta Kaplan, will also receive an honorary degree at the May 22 commencement ceremony on the university's Homewood campus.


The two women, lauded as heroes of the gay rights movement, are two of seven "distinguished achievers" being honored by Hopkins.

"Johns Hopkins University is a place where big ideas come to life, a place where dreamers leave the status quo behind, and, in so many ways, a place where brave leaders are championed and celebrated," said Ronald J. Daniels, Hopkins' president, and Robert C. Lieberman, its provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, in a joint statement. "These men and women have distinguished themselves in ways that are wholly their own. Common among them, however, is the drive to innovate, the determination to succeed, and the passion to look beyond themselves and work for the benefit of mankind."


Windsor, in her mid-80s, met her longtime partner Thea Spyer more than 40 years ago in New York, married her in Canada in 2007, then mourned her in 2009, when Spyer died. The federal government refused to recognize Windsor as Spyer's surviving spouse because of the Defense of Marriage Act -- which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages -- and slapped her with $363,053 in estate taxes.

Windsor sued with the pro bono help of Kaplan, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the nation's highest judges dealt the law a hefty blow by finding one of its key provisions unconstitutional.

The toppling of the law had immediate results, from how the federal government deals with foreign-born spouses of gay American citizens to how it allows gay couples to file taxes.

The case also preceded a wave of challenges to individual states' bans on same-sex marriage across the country, and some observers believe it will help pave the way to an eventual ruling in the court affirming a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry.

Windsor and Kaplan are both expected to accept their honorary degrees in person, Hopkins officials said.

The other honorees are Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch; YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki; former Lockheed Martin chairman and CEO Norman R. Augustine; former Johns Hopkins board of trustees chair and current Citi Foundation president and CEO Pamela Flaherty; and Maryland College Institute of Art president Fred Lazarus.