Edith Windsor has become known as a beloved pioneer for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. Taking to the Supreme Court in 2009, she played a significant role in the taking down of critical parts of a US marriage law that helped pave the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the country, making her a gay rights legend.
Windsor passed away on Tuesday, September 12th at the age of 88 in New York. The exact cause of her death has not been revealed to the public.
Windsor found the progression of LGBTQ+ rights in the US astonishing. In a 2012 interview, she stated, “I grew up knowing that society thought I was inferior. Did I ever think we would be discussing equality in marriage? Never. It was just so far away.”
Following the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer, brought the aforementioned case to the Supreme Court at the age of 81. After spending 40 years together, the couple legally married in Canada in 2007. What inspired Windsor to take her case all the way to Washington was the US Defense of Marriage Act, which denied her the same rights of tax exemption as heterosexual married individuals from federal taxes regarding Spyer’s estate. She faced a $360,000 tax bill from which heterosexual couples would have been exempt. However, Windsor knew that this surpassed taxes and even marriage. Rather, this was a violation of her rights as an American.
After the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case in 2012, Windsor said, “It’s a very important case. It’s bigger than marriage, and I think marriage is major. I think if we win, the effect will be the beginning of the end of stigma.”
And she won. Justices rule 5-4 in favor of Windsor’s caused, deeming the law barring the US government’s lack of recognition for same-sex unions to be unconstitutional.
While the ruling didn’t directly result in the legalizing of same-sex marriage, it certainly helped pave the way nu encouraging same-sex marriage supporters in states in which it was banned. It also played a part in the hewing of conservatives who opposed same-sex marriage. On the ruling, then Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated that, “The only thing that will ‘confine’ the court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with.”
The decision on Windsor’s case proved to be a catalyst in the federal legalization of same-sex marriage, starting a series of same-sex marriage ban lifts in individual states and finally a Supreme Court ruling legalizing it in all 50 states.
Former President Barack Obama deemed Windsor as one of the “quiet heroes” whose persistence had furthered the cause of marriage equality. “Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor — and few made as big a difference to America,” the Obama said on Tuesday, also adding that he had spoken to her a few days prior.
Thea Spyer came into Windsor’s life in 1963 after Windsor’s marriage to a man ended when she told him she was gay. According to court documents, Windsor told Spyer, “‘If it still feels this goofy joyous, I’d like us to spend the rest of our lives together.’ And we did.”
Windsor added that Spyer had given her a diamond brooch instead of a ring, the reason being that a ring would bring them unwanted attention. Said Windsor of the gesture, it was, “just one of many ways in which Thea and I had to mold our lives to make our relationship invisible.”