Her mar­riage equal­ity suit led to a land­mark rul­ing

Star Tribune - - NATION & WORLD - By ROBERT D. McFADDEN New York Times

Edith Windsor, the gayrights ac­tivist whose land­mark Supreme Court case struck down the De­fense of Mar­riage Act in 2013 and granted same­sex mar­ried cou­ples fed­eral recog­ni­tion for the first time and rights to myr­iad fed­eral ben­e­fits, died Tues­day in New York. She was 88.

Her wife, Ju­dith KasenWind­sor, con­firmed the death but did not spec­ify a cause. They were mar­ried in 2016.

Four decades af­ter the Stonewall Inn up­ris­ing fu­eled the fight for les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der rights in the United States, Windsor, the widow of a woman with whom she had lived much of her life, be­came the lead plain­tiff in what is widely re­garded as the sec­ond most im­por­tant Supreme Court rul­ing in the na­tional bat­tle over same-sex mar­riage rights.

The Windsor de­ci­sion was lim­ited to 13 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia.

But in 2015, the Supreme Court held that same-sex cou­ples had a con­sti­tu­tional right to marry any­where in the na­tion, with all the pro­tec­tions and priv­i­leges of het­ero­sex­ual cou­ples. Its his­toric sig­nif­i­cance was likened to that of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, which de­crim­i­nal­ized gay sex in the U.S.

Windsor had just wanted a tax re­fund. But for thou­sands strug­gling for gen­der equal­ity, the stakes went far be­yond tax ad­van­tages avail­able to mar­ried het­ero­sex­u­als, in­clud­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity, health care and vet­er­ans’ ben­e­fits; pro­tec­tion in im­mi­gra­tion and bank­ruptcy cases; and keep­ing a home af­ter a spouse had died, as well as food stamps, green cards and fed­eral aid to the poor, the el­derly and chil­dren.

Like count­less oth­ers, Windsor had been snared by the De­fense of Mar­riage Act of 1996, which barred same­sex mar­ried cou­ples from fed­eral recog­ni­tion as “spouses,” ef­fec­tively ex­clud­ing them from fed­eral ben­e­fits avail­able to mar­ried het­ero­sex­u­als.

Af­ter liv­ing to­gether for 40 years, Windsor and Thea Spyer, a psy­chol­o­gist, were legally mar­ried in Canada in 2007. Spyer died in 2009, and Windsor in­her­ited her es­tate. But the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice de­nied her the unlimited spousal ex­emp­tion from fed­eral es­tate taxes avail­able to mar­ried het­ero­sex­u­als, and she had to pay taxes of $363,053.

She sued, claim­ing that the law, by rec­og­niz­ing only mar­riages be­tween a man and a woman, un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally sin­gled out same-sex mar­riage part­ners for “dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment.”

Af­firm­ing two lower court rul­ings, the Supreme Court over­turned the law in a 5-4 rul­ing, cit­ing the Fifth Amend­ment guar­an­tee that no per­son shall be “de­prived of life, lib­erty or prop­erty with­out due process of law.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama called an elated Windsor with his con­grat­u­la­tions. She be­came a na­tional celebrity, a gay-rights ma­tri­arch, a grand mar­shal of New York City’s LGBT Pride March and a run­ner-up to Pope Fran­cis for Time mag­a­zine’s per­son of the year in 2013.

Born Edith Sch­lain in Philadel­phia on June 20, 1929, she was the youngest of three chil­dren of James and Celia Sch­lain, Jewish im­mi­grants from Rus­sia.

Edie read vo­ra­ciously and was an ex­cel­lent stu­dent in pub­lic schools. In high school dur­ing World War II, she dated boys but re­called hav­ing crushes on girls. In 1946, she en­rolled at Tem­ple Univer­sity. She be­came en­gaged to her brother’s friend Saul Windsor, but broke it off when she fell in love with a fe­male class­mate.

“It was won­der­ful and ter­ri­ble,” she told Time mag­a­zine years later. De­cid­ing that she did not want a les­bian life, how­ever, she rec­on­ciled with Saul Windsor and mar­ried him af­ter re­ceiv­ing her bach­e­lor’s de­gree from Tem­ple in 1950. Less than a year later, they were di­vorced.

CHRISTO­PHER GREGORY • New York Times

In March 2013, Edith Windsor heard her case against the De­fense of Mar­riage Act ar­gued be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court.

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