Edith Windsor, the gay-rights activist whose legal battles for same sex marriage rights resulted in the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 88.
Her wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, confirmed the death, at a hospital, but did not specify a cause. They were married in 2016.
Windsor first rose to national prominence by suing the federal government for spousal benefits after her first wife, Thea Spyer, whom she’d legally married in Canada – died in 2009.
DOMA, which banned all federal recognition of same sex marriage, barred her from receiving those benefits.
Windsor’s case, United States v. Windsor, made it to the Supreme Court, and in 2013, the Court ruled in her favour.
The Windsor decision, was limited to 13 states and the District of Columbia. However in a more expansive ruling in 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges and three related cases, the Supreme Court held that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry anywhere in the nation, with all the protections and privileges of heterosexual couples.
Its historic significance was likened to that of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, which decriminalized gay sex in the United States.
Born Edith Schlain, Windsor kept her last name after marrying Saul Windsor in a union that lasted just one year.
She met Spyer in 1963. In 1967, Windsor proposed to Spyer. They waited 40 years before they got married in Canada.
Windsor spent decades working tirelessly as an LGBTQ activist in and around New York, including once going to so far to donate her Cadillac to a Village Halloween parade in Manhattan.
Through her tireless efforts, Windsor became a leading star in the world of LGBTQ activism.
Celebrating the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision declaring marriage as a fundamental right for all Americans, Windsor told The New Yorker she was “thrilled with the content of the decision.”
But, despite the monumental victory, Windsor was realistic about how it fit into the larger fight for rights and representation for the LGBTQ community.
I think it’s only the next major step. We have a history: beginning to see each other with Stonewall, when a whole new community began to recognize itself; the AIDS crisis—we’d always been separated! Gays and lesbians, separated! But when lesbians came forward to help with the victims of AIDS, we all saw each other very differently. I see this as another huge step towards equality—I combine, it, obviously, with my case.
Rest in Power, Edith Windsor.