By now, you’ve probably heard the name Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in United States v. Windsor, the case pending before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as “ a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” However, do you know the background on this courageous woman who plans to change not only the face of DOMA, but how healthcare and inheritance decisions are made today?
Edith Windsor was born in 1929 in Philadelphia during the Great Depression. A graduate of Temple University and New York University, Edith decided to move to New York to start fresh after a brief marriage. Using her mathematical skills, Edith landed a programming position with IBM. In 1965, Edith met Thea Spyer, a future clinical psychologist in New York at Portofino, a restaurant in the West Village where lesbians frequently congregated. Their connection was imminent, with the two dancing late into the night. However, it would take two years before the two women saw each other again Memorial Day weekend in the Hamptons and begin their courtship. In 1967, Thea proposed marriage using a round diamond lapel pin, the same label pin that Edith wore this week as she entered the doors of the Supreme Court.
During the next forty years, the two women would live together hoping that one day their union would be recognized. In 2007, Thea was given only a year to live. It was then that they decided to fly to Toronto, Ontario to be married by Canada’s first openly gay judge, Justice Harvey Brownstone. By then, Edith had given up her job to care for Thea who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 45, and was now a quadriplegic using a wheelchair to get around. 21 months after their wedding, Thea passed away at a time in which New York legally recognized same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. After Thea’s death, Edith was required to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance of Thea’s estate. If their marriage had been recognized federally, Edith would not have been required to pay the taxes or how Edith explains, “if Thea had been Theo.”
Edith approached several gay rights organizations and was initially turned down. However, she was referred to Roberta Kaplan, an attorney who unsuccessfully argued the case challenging the inability of same-sex couples to marry in New York before the New York Court of Appeals in 2006. Today, Roberta’s firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in addition with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have taken Edith’s case all the way up to the Supreme Court. Edith today is not only a courageous woman, but a voice for the LGBT community and gay marriage. During a recent news conference, Edith was asked this question, “Why are more people beginning to accept gay marriage?” Her response, “As we increasingly came out, people saw that we didn’t have horns. People learned that, OK, we were their kids and their cousins, and their friends. It just grew to where we were human beings like everybody else.”