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Opinion That time Edie Windsor got angry — and changed America

Gay rights activist Edith Windsor, whose same-sex marriage fight led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling died on Sept. 12. (Video: Reuters)

Seeing the news should not have been as shocking as it was. When Edie Windsor died on Tuesday, she was 88 years old. She lived a long, beautiful life in New York filled with friends and love. But my husband and I, along with thousands of same-sex couples in the United States, lost a heroine — a status Windsor achieved on June 26, 2013.

On that date, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that a key part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. The sole purpose of that mean-spirited 1996 law was to deny the rights, responsibilities and dignity that confer with marriage to same-sex couples. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion, “DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.” Windsor’s challenge to the law gave Kennedy and the court yet another opportunity to make this a more perfect union for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans.

An evening with Edie Windsor and Roberta Kaplan

The love of Windsor’s life was Thea Spyer, a woman she met more than 40 years earlier in the Big Apple. Photographs of the two of them reveal an elegant couple reveling in each other’s company. In 2007, they legally married in Canada — a union that was recognized by the state of New York. Two years later, Spyer died, and the federal government made Windsor pay $363,053 in estate taxes because DOMA prevented her from being recognized as the surviving spouse by the federal government. With the help of another heroine, Roberta Kaplan, a partner at the powerhouse law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Windsor legally challenged DOMA. And won.

At an event in New York I did with Windsor and Kaplan just a month after the court victory, someone asked Windsor how she would like to be remembered in 50 years. Windsor’s thoughts were with same-sex couples where one in the relationship was not an American. There was one story that gained national attention of a deportation proceeding of a gay Colombian man despite being legally married to a U.S. citizen that was stopped minutes after the Supreme Court decision. Windsor said that she hoped that time in 2013 would be remembered as “the time when everybody [who had] an out-of-country partner [could] bring them home to America.”

By bringing her revolutionary suit, Windsor was simply fighting to make her life — all of our (LGBT) lives — ordinary. But by trying to be ordinary, Windsor showed her life to be extraordinary. Her 40-plus-year love for Spyer was one that most people dream of yet never achieve. That’s why everyone audibly “aww[ed]” when Windsor responded to a query about whether she was dating anyone. “No, I have a problem because I’m still terribly in love with Thea,” she said. “I’d have to put away who she is to find anybody possible.”

June 26, 2015. America at its greatest.

My heart broke hearing that Windsor had passed, and then soared at the thought of her being reunited with her beloved Thea. I was honored to have had a moment with her, to see her joy for life and to watch her bask in her newfound fame as an icon of LGBT equality. What an incredible inheritance she left us. All of us. If my now-husband and I had had a chance to see her one more time before she left us, there would be only one thing to say: Thank you.

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Rest in peace, Edie.

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