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Family Equality Council’s Night at the Pier Honors Windsor Lawyer

by David  Perry
Saturday May 4, 2013
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Christina Ricci, Melissa Etheridge and the entire cast of the Tony-nominated "Kinky Boots" were among the many who gave standing ovations at Pier 60 on New York’s chic Westside as actor/producer Dan Bucatinsky, former Family Equality Council Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler and United States vs. Windsor lawyer Roberta Kaplan were honored by the FEC for their standout work in pushing forward the cause for and legal recognition of gay and lesbian families during the organization’s 8th annual Night at the Pier. From the modest affair attended by 40 at the Tavern on the Green eight years ago, the Night at the Pier event has grown, and on Apr. 29 packed in more than 800 guests.

As children darted back and forth during the pre-ceremony cocktail mixer, gay and lesbian-headed households chatted with Zach Walhs, New York Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler and FEC chairs Daryl Roth and Cyndi Lauper before sitting down for dinner and the awards ceremony itself. During the festivities, a silent auction raised $800,000 for the organization’s work.

"Over the years, this has also grown into an inspiring evening where our community can come together to celebrate our accomplishments, connect with our friends and commit ourselves to the fight for full equality," Chrisler told EDGE.

At the start of Chrisler’s tenure, George W. Bush was in the White House and she inherited a Lilliputian staff of three and an equally small budget of half a million dollars. Under her stewardship, the staff rose to 19 and the budget to a whopping $2.7 million. Today, the FEC is the foremost body connecting, supporting, and representing the three million LGBT parents and their six million children in the country.

Eagle-beautiful and wearing the circular diamond broach that her late wife, Thea Spyer, gave her in lieu of a wedding ring, Edie Windsor, whose case is set to make history by striking the death-knell of DOMA, proudly handed Kaplan her award. Promptly stating her admiration for Windsor’s steely resolve and boundless grace, Kaplan lionized Windsor not as her client or a plaintiff, but as a woman who was one-half of a couple who forged their familial bond in 1967, two years before the seminal events of Stonewall.

"But the most heroic part of Edie’s life is what happened for the next 40 years," Kaplan told the audience. "Ten years into their relationship, Thea was diagnosed with a terrible form of multiple sclerosis, and by the time of her death, was able to use only one finger. Edie and Thea decided that their life was going to be devoted to seizing joy. They kept dancing together in Thea’s wheelchair. Any one of us, gay or straight, young or old, man or woman, would be so lucky to have a marriage like Edie and Thea had."

It was upon Spyer’s death in 2009 that Windsor (who suffered a heart attack attributed to "broken heart syndrome") was unceremoniously slapped with $363,000 federal estate taxes on her inheritance of her late wife’s estate. Had federal law recognized their marriage as it does those of heterosexual couples, she would have paid no taxes. Rather than accept, and still in recovery, the 83-year-old Windsor contacted Kaplan, chosen by The National Law Journal as one of "The 100 Most Influential Lawyers," one of the top "40 Under 40" lawyers in the nation, and is one of the 500 leading litigators in the United States. Having married her wife, Rachel Levine, in 2009, Kaplan took the case immediately, and due to her work, and Windsor’s, President Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice decided that DOMA was unconstitutional and that they would no longer defend its constitutionality in court.

In her acceptance speech, Kaplan used excerpts from the case to demonstrate how desperate the keystone argument of opposing side’s defense of DOMA is.

"’In retaining the traditional definition of marriage for federal law purposes,’" said Kaplan. "’Congress recognizes the basic biological fact that only a man and a woman can beget a child together without advanced planning, which means that opposite-sex couples have a unique tendency to produce unplanned and unintended offspring.’"

Amid the guffawing from the audience, Kaplan summed, "We are now living in a topsy-turvy world where the problem for marriage traditionalists today has nothing to do with gay people, but is irresponsible ’begetting’ by straight people."

One of the event’s most touching moments was when Chrisler was introduced by her two (of three) young sons, Tim and Tom, whom she raises with her wife, judge and former Massachusetts State Senator Cheryl Jacques.

"She gave speeches to help people respect and understand our family, and she worked to change the laws in our country so that all families are treated fairly," Tom beamed, who with great applause went on to say, "I love momma, and she’s the best parent ever!"

"She cares so much about everyone’s families," added Tim, who brought the house down when he promised, "When I’m rich and famous, I’m going to give all my money to the Family Equality Council. And I’m going to talk about them on TV every chance I get!"

Clearly moved, Chrisler accepted her award, saying simply that the progress towards recognition of LGBTQ families, ultimately will come from their collective voice, not at an awards ceremony, but in the communities and neighborhoods each family lives in and is a part, and with the straight allies who believe along with the gay and lesbian community that all families should be treated equally.

Of her award and tenure, she said, "It has been an extraordinary privilege to be the executive director of this organization for the last eight years. When I took this job, I took it not because it was a place of employment, but because it was a passion. And I knew, as a parent, I could do nothing less than stand up and tell my story, tell your story, tell our stories. And whether it was to one person or to a million people, those stories were in fact going to be the change that we needed in the world."

FEC Honors Gay Parent Poster-Boy Dan Bucatinsky

Known widely in Hollywood for his comedic work in "All Over the Guy," the Emmy-nominated HBO comedy, "The Comeback" (produced with business partner Lisa Kudrow), the acclaimed NBC docu-series "Who Do You Think You Are?" and the web series "Web Therapy," Dan Bucatinsky became a gay parent poster-boy with the publication of his and his husband’s adventures in child-raising in the 2012 book "Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?" Introduced by gay icon Melissa Etheridge and her partner, "Nurse Jackie" actress Linda Wallen, Bucatinsky took time to thank Wallen personally for introducing him to his husband, screenwriter Don Roos, lacing his acceptance speech with a constant barrage of levity.

"Linda is responsible for my marriage of over 20 years to Don," he said. Turning to Roos in the audience, he added, "And because of that decision there is not a day, Don, that I don’t wake up and feel in my heart -- oh, you’re on your phone. Never mind."

Jokes aside, Bucatinsky told EDGE, "This award, to me, is an acknowledgement and recognition of my work, and my passionate commitment to LGBT family rights. Not only as the author of a book about my experience as a gay dad, but also in my portrayal of a gay dad in a political marriage on [ABC’s] "Scandal," this recognition feels like an affirmation that the work makes a difference, and that I may play even a small role in the ongoing progress in the fight for marriage and family equality.

"I’ve always felt that it takes knowing an LGBTQ family to learn to LOVE an LGBTQ family," Bucatinsky continued. "Just as Obama stated when he spoke out in that fateful interview last year in support of gay marriage, referring to the friends of his daughters who come from same-sex couples and have sat at his dinner table. Recognizing us, seeing us, is a huge path to recognizing our civil rights."

After the cast of "Kinky Boots" ended the night with song, EDGE caught up with singer Melissa Etheridge, a mother herself, who capped the night perfectly.

"I mean, it’s ridiculous to say we need ’family equality,’" said Etheridge. "That’s kind of crazy, but it is about our kids, it’s about our rights, it’s about our courts, it’s about us. It’s about so many people."

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