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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 15, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 37
LGBT rights pioneer Edie Windsor dies at 88

Plaintiff in historic USA v. Windsor ruling
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LGBT rights pioneer Edie Windsor dies at 88

Plaintiff in historic USA v. Windsor ruling

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the landmark case USA v. Windsor, in which the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), died September 12. She was 88.

Windsor was survived by her second wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, whom she married in 2016, but it was her first marriage that made legal history.

Windsor first met Thea Spyer in 1963 at Portofino, a restaurant in Greenwich Village, but both women were already in relationships, so they maintained a casual friendship. In 1965 they began dating, and in 1967 Speyer asked Windsor to marry her.

Windsor agreed, and six months later the couple moved into an apartment in Greenwich Village. In 1968, they purchased a small vacation house on Long Island together. Although they originally concealed their relationship, Speyer and Windsor grew more open about their status as a couple, inviting friends over to their Manhattan apartment to celebrate their anniversaries.

In 1977, Spyer was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis, which caused a gradual but ever-increasing paralysis. Windsor took an early retirement to become a full-time caregiver for Spyer. Windsor and Spyer entered a domestic partnership in New York City in 1993, registering on the first day it became legal to do so.

Spyer suffered a heart attack in 2002 and was diagnosed with aortic stenosis. In 2007, her doctors told her she had less than a year to live. The couple then traveled to Toronto, Canada, the closest place they could legally marry. The ceremony was conducted by Canada's first openly Gay judge, Harvey Brownstone.

Speyer outlasted her doctor's prediction but ultimately died on February 5, 2009. Because the US government refused to recognize her marriage to Speyer, Windsor was hit with $363,053 in federal estate taxes.

Had DOMA, which withheld federal recognition of same-sex marriages, not been in place, she would have qualified for the unlimited spousal deduction that opposite-sex couples get.

In 2010, Windsor sued the US government, charging that DOMA violated the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment because it deprived her of the same spousal rights that would be due to an opposite-sex spouse.

Soon after the suit was filed, Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he could not defend the constitutionality of DOMA. When a federal district court ruled in 2012 that the law was, indeed, unconstitutional, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives set up a special legal commission to defend DOMA on appeal.

Ultimately the US Supreme Court ruled in 2013, declaring DOMA unconstitutional and clearing the way for federal recognition of same-sex marriages in the 13 states that, along with the District of Columbia, then allowed it.

The majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy foreshadowed the arguments Kennedy would use two years later in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Windsor eventually remarried, but - largely due to her lawsuit - without the legal drama that surrounded her first marriage. Her second wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, remembered her as a freedom fighter in a statement to the New York Times.

'The world lost a tiny but tough-as-nails fighter for freedom, justice, and equality,' Kasen-Windsor said.

'Edie was the light of my life. She will always be the light for the LGBTQ community, which she loved so much and which loved her right back.'

Former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton also paid tribute to Windsor.

'America's long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what's right,' Obama said in a statement.

'Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor - and few made as big a difference to America.'

Bill Clinton tweeted that 'in standing up for herself, Edie also stood up for millions of Americans and their rights.'

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