Edith Windsor, LGBTQ and civil rights activist, died at 88 in Manhattan on Tuesday.
After the death of her wife, Thea Spyer, in 2009, Windsor attempted to claim federal tax exemptions on her wife’s estate tax. Since same-sex marriage was not recognized by the federal government under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Windsor was denied the federal tax exemptions.
DOMA legally defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. At the time, the decision to allow same-sex couples the right to marry was determined on a state-by-state basis. However, even while some states recognized same-sex marriage, the federal government did not. As a result, same-sex couples were not eligible to receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples.
Windsor and her wife had a relationship lasting more than 40 years. While they were married in Canada in 2007, their marriage was still not recognized by the U.S. federal government. Windsor argued that because the state of New York recognized her marriage, discrimination by the federal government was unconstitutional. Her case, United States v. Windsor, went to the Supreme Court.
On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional. Windsor was recognized as the executor of her wife’s estate. As a result of this ruling, the federal government can no longer discriminate against same-sex couples by denying them the federal benefits granted to heterosexual married couples. Windsor remained heavily involved with advocacy work after the ruling.
Upon her passing, Hillary Clinton tweeted that “Edie Windsor showed the world that love can be a powerful force for change. She will be greatly missed.” President Obama said in a statement that “few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor, and few made as big a difference to America.”
The LGBT+ community has especially mourned the loss of Windsor. “I immediately noticed how tiny she was,” Rhea Butcher, a stand-up comedian and creator and star of Take My Wife, wrote of Windsor in the NY Times. “She reminded me of my own grandmother, who had passed away at 88 years old, a tough woman who had been pushed down—she literally lost inches—on account of the burdens she carried. I realized how much weight Edie carried in her life, through the 42 years she spent engaged but not legally married to her love, Thea Spyer, who died of multiple sclerosis in 2009. I noticed she wore running shoes: a fitting choice for a woman who never seemed to stop moving.”
Butcher showed Windsor her wedding ring that same night. (She is married to Cameron Esposito, her Take My Wife co-star and a fellow stand-up comic.) “She beamed and said something to me,” Butcher wrote, “but I don’t remember what because my brain was too busy realizing I was standing next to Edie Windsor. We took one photo together, she and Judith left, and I wandered over to some friends that had come to the show, stunned that I had just met the woman who gave me my television show, my marriage and my life.”
Windsor is survived by her wife, Judith Kasen, whom she married in 2016.
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