Ovation: Edith Windsor.
Edith Schlain Windsor worked in New York as a computer systems consultant for IBM. She was a board member of Social Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, also known as SAGE, from 1985 to 1987 and from 2004 to 2006. She graduated from Temple University and received a master’s degree in mathematics from New York University. She is the daughter of the late Celia and James D. Schlain of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 1965, she met Thea Clara Spyer for the first time, but it was not until two years later, during a Memorial Day weekend in the Hamptons, that the two women again encountered each other and began a love story that would change a great nation.
After forty more years of loving commitment, on May 22, 2007, they were legally married. Yet even after a relationship that had endured far longer than most the two women were not treated like other couples in the eyes of their government … particularly the federal government which under the Defense of Marriage Act mandated that a spouse must be a person of the opposite sex. In 2009, after suffering a heart attack a month after Spyer’s death, as Edith recovered and mourned, she realized she faced a huge bill for inheritance taxes. The government had burdened her with a tax bill in the amount of $363,053.00 … a bill that a widow whose spouse had been a man would not be required to pay. Edith got angry and refused to pay, literally, for losing her soul mate … her one true love. She sued the United States of America and she won.
One year ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Edith’s case by issuing a landmark decision that gay people have the same right to dignity and respect under the law that straight people do.
In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court held Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional because it violated principles of Equal Protection by treating relationships that had equal status under state law differently under federal law. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito dissented.
When Edith Windsor’s case was filed on November 9, 2010, only five states and Washington, D.C. permitted same-sex couples to marry. Last June when the Supreme Court issued their historic ruling, twelve states and D.C. allowed these couples to marry. Today, nineteen states (Utah and Indiana are still in limbo as of press time) and the District of Columbia, representing almost forty-four percent of the United States population afford same-sex couples and their families the same dignity and respect under the law as their straight neighbors. It seems as though nearly every week, another court in another state expands the rights of gay people using the same logic and language of the Windsor decision.
“Anybody who does not believe that gay marriage is going to be the law of the land … isn’t living in the real world.” – Orrin Hatch
Hopefully, there will soon be a day when all loving couples are afforded the same rights, benefits and obligations of civil marriage and all families are treated equally under the law … when naysayers stop harming children being raised by loving parents regardless of their gender and that people will always remember the bravery of Edith Windsor who confronted the unfairness presented to her by her government. And the fact that she did it for her one true love.
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