Edith Windsor on Love, DOMA and Life as a Civil Rights Icon

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Edith Windsor with John Hockenberry (Cathy Renna)

At the age of 84, Edith Windsor shot to stardom in 2013.

As the plaintiff in U.S. v. Windsor, the case in which the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, Edie, as she is known, became a national icon in 2013. As she tells The Takeaway's John Hockenberry, "It's like there is a huge love affair between me and the whole gay community, and I can't walk down the street without people stopping me to say thank you. It's thrilling."

In 2007, Windsor married Thea Spyer, her partner of more than 40 years, in OntarioCanada. When Spyer died of complications from multiple sclerosis in 2009, the federal government and the State of New York served Windsor with a bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes because the U.S. (and, at the time, New York) did not recognize same-sex marriages. With the help of attorney Roberta Kaplan, Windsor sued the U.S. government, claiming that DOMA violates the Constitution's equal protection clause. 

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court agreed, in a 5-4 decision. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States."

Windsor describes her "panic" upon hearing "Edith Windsor versus the United States of America" at the Supreme Court, but she tells John Hockenberry that she found the Justices "very fair and very respectful."

Windsor says that she often finds old notes from Thea around her apartment, and on the day she returned form oral arguments at the Supreme Court, she found a note from Thea that said, "'You did it honey, congratulations.'" 

By the time Thea died, "she hadn't been able to write for years," Windsor says, "so I assume it was probably from something like when I stopped smoking. But I was spooked."

Over the decades, Windsor and Spyer were devoted to one another, but, because of the stigma against LGBT relationships, their love remained hidden. "I think we were so pleased with each other so we had to be pleased with ourselves," Windsor says. "It made for not feeling hidden even though we were."

Windsor remained closeted throughout her career as an engineer at IBM. "Most people did not realize I was gay until our wedding appeared in The New York Times [in 2007]," Windsor recalls. "Then people called up and said, 'You lied! Edie, you lied!' I said, 'We had to.'"

As Windsor explains, marriage changed her relationship with Spyer. "It [the domestic partnership] was a symbol of who were to each other, no question...but it wasn't the same as the morning after we got married and woke up. There's a profundity that probably goes with the word altogether, but I think it's much more so for those of us who thought we could never have it."

In the years to come, Windsor plans to continue her activism in the LGBT community. "This business of this love affair with the gay community makes me a very happy girl," she says. "If you have to survive a great love of your life, it's a wonderful way to do it. It really is."


Edith Windsor

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Jillian Weinberger

Comments [3]

George from Queens

As a result of NYS's legalization of same gender marriages we were able to marry. With the SCOTUS's decision in the Edith Windsor vs. USA case I was able to petition for my husband to become a permanent resident of the US. We have an interview with ICE on January 2, 2014 to validate the legitimacy of our union so that my South Korean national husband can be given permanent residency in the US. There are a lot of 'heroes' involved in our case and we are grateful to them all. We are especially grateful for the spirit of Ms. Winsdor.

Dec. 26 2013 06:10 PM

"I think we were so pleased with each other so we had to be pleased with ourselves," Windsor says. "It made for not feeling hidden even though we were."

Love has amazing power, does amazing things - halves sorrow, more than doubles joy. When you can come home and no longer have to hide, that gets you through all the pains and hurts throughout the day and for years.

I just wish Edie could have had the full comfort of not hiding when Thea was alive.

These women have our greatest gratitude and admiration.

-Leslie & Roger, finally able to marry AND tell others, especially our "Uncle Sam."

Dec. 26 2013 04:51 PM

Wonderful attitude! She's quite a woman!

What's with, Texas? What a backward land . . . so many regressive, throwbacks to an unenlightened nature and time! My wish for them and anyone who would heap hurt onto their brethren and kin, is to move into the light of self-understanding, awareness, compassion and empathy for themselves as well as for those who they'd labeled as different. Some might care less for my wish, but I'll wish it anyway.

Dec. 26 2013 12:43 PM

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