Same-sex mar­riage hero­ine dead at 88

She fought the De­fense of Mar­riage Act at Supreme Court

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Richard Wolf @richard­j­wolf USA TO­DAY

Edie Windsor, the New York oc­to­ge­nar­ian whose Supreme Court vic­tory in 2013 forced the fed­eral govern­ment to rec­og­nize same-sex mar­riage and led to its le­gal­iza­tion two years later, died Tues­day. She was 88.

Windsor’s un­likely le­gal bat­tle top­pled a key sec­tion of the De­fense of Mar­riage Act, which had de­nied mar­ried gay and les­bian cou­ples the same fed­eral ben­e­fits en­joyed by oth­ers. It af­fected about a dozen states where same­sex mar­riages were le­gal.

Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled by 5-4 that state bans on same-sex mar­riage were un­con­sti­tu­tional.

“She will go down in the his­tory books as a true Amer­i­can hero,” said Roberta Kaplan, who rep­re­sented Windsor be­fore the Supreme Court. “Her mem­ory will be a bless­ing not only to ev­ery LGBT per­son on this planet but to all who be­lieve in the con­cept of b’tzelem elo­him, or equal dig­nity for all.”

Be­fore and par­tic­u­larly af­ter her court vic­tory, Amer­i­cans came to learn about Windsor and Thea Spyer’s march to­ward mat­ri­mony, en­cum­bered by Spyer’s 30-year bat­tle with mul­ti­ple sclero­sis and cul­mi­nat­ing in their wed­ding trip to Canada in 2007.

Two years later, Spyer was dead, leav­ing Windsor with a $363,000 fed­eral es­tate tax bill that would not have been levied if Thea had been Theo. Af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a heart at­tack that doc­tors said was trig­gered by “bro­ken heart syn­drome,” the pe­tite, 83-year-old widow de­cided to fight back. She won at ev­ery fed­eral court level, cul­mi­nat­ing in her Supreme Court vic­tory in June 2013.

“It’s not ‘same-sex mar­riage.’ It’s mar­riage. It’s mar­riage equal­ity,” Windsor told USA TO­DAY in an in­ter­view in De­cem­ber 2012. She was sur­rounded by photos and mem­o­ra­bilia from the cou­ple’s marathon courtship and brief nup­tials.

Windsor paid more than a halfmil­lion dol­lars in to­tal af­ter Spyer’s death, in­clud­ing to New York state, which le­gal­ized gay mar­riage last year. Most of the cou­ple’s wealth was in the ris­ing value of the apart­ment at 2 Fifth Ave. and a small “coun­try house” in Southamp­ton, N.Y., bought for $35,000 in 1968. To­gether, the homes are worth mil­lions to­day.

“The money mat­ters to me a great deal,” Windsor said at the time. But her case, Windsor v. United States, was about much more. “The suit is about a mar­riage,” she said, “my mar­riage to her and her mar­riage to me.”

Windsor was an un­likely le­gal ti­tan. She used a mas­ter’s de­gree in math­e­mat­ics from New York Univer­sity to be­come a se­nior com­puter sys­tems pro­gram­mer at IBM. She and Spyer spent most of their lives work­ing, trav­el­ing, danc­ing — and ly­ing.

“All through IBM, I lied about who I was,” Windsor said.

Their trip to Toronto for a civil cer­e­mony in May 2007, as well as their de­vo­tion, was chron­i­cled in the doc­u­men­tary Edie and Thea — A Very Long En­gage­ment.

JEWEL SAMAD, AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Windsor, cen­ter, was 83, when the high court heard her case.

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