Same-sex marriage heroine dead at 88
She fought the Defense of Marriage Act at Supreme Court
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.
Windsor, center, was 83, when the high court heard her case.