President Barack Obama pays tribute to LGBT rights hero Edith Windsor, who has died at 88
President Barack Obama has paid tribute to activist and pioneer Edie Windsor, whose Supreme Court case was crucial in legalising same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
The LGBT rights advocate died peacefully age 88, her wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, told the New York Times.
Windsor was the lead plaintiff in the 2013 case which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and proved to be instrumental in the legalisation of same-sex marriage across the US.
Former US president Barack Obama was among her admirers, and spoke with Windsor a few days ago, shortly before her death, “to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love.”
In a statement, the 44th president paid a personal tribute: “America’s long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fuelled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what’s right.
“Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor — and few made as big a difference to America,” Obama said.
“In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
“The day that the Supreme Court issued its 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor was a great day for Edie, and a great day for America — a victory for human decency, equality, freedom, and justice. And I called Edie that day to congratulate her.
“I thought about Edie that day,” Obama said of Windsor’s landmark case.
“I thought about all the millions of quiet heroes across the decades whose countless small acts of courage slowly made an entire country realise that love is love — and who, in the process, made us all more free.”
Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also sent her condolences, writing on Twitter: “Edie Windsor showed the world that love can be a powerful force for change. She will be greatly missed.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and President of GLAAD said of Windsor’s passing: “Edie Windsor is a legend who changed the course of history for the better.
“She touched countless lives, and we at GLAAD are deeply saddened by her passing, but her kindness, compassion, and legacy will endure.”
Windsor married her wife in 2016 after same-sex marriage became legal in all states.
She had filed her lawsuit with a view to getting a tax refund, but the lawsuit went much further than that.
She had been affected by the Defense of Marriage Act which had banned same-sex couples from being recognised as “spouses” federally.
Her late wife Thea Spyer, who Windsor married in Canada in 2007 after being together for 40 years, had left her estate to Windsor, but the IRS had denied her the spousal exemption from federal estate taxes, which was then given to straight couples, when Spyer died in 2009.
This led to Windsor paying taxes of $363,053 and filing her lawsuit which accused the federal government of singling out same-sex partners for “differential treatment”.
The Supreme Court later bolstered the rulings of two lower courts in a 5-4 ruling, which states that nobody should be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
After the ruling in Windsor’s case, same-sex marriage was still left illegal in 37 states.
But she was congratulated by President Barack Obama, and she later served as the Grand Marshal of New York City’s Pride March.
She was also featured as Time magazine’s runner up person of the year in 2013.
Born in 1929 to Jewish Parents, Windsor was the youngest of three, and was born Edith Schlain.
She had been engaged to her brother’s friend Saul Windsor and married him later after falling in love with a female classmate.
Windsor later married Windsor after attaining a bachelors degree from Temple in 1950 but divorced after less than a year.
“Finally, I said, ‘Honey, you deserve more,’ ” Ms. Windsor told The New York Times.
“‘You deserve someone who feels you’re the most desirable person, and I need something else.’ And I was right. He married the right girl and had a lovely life.”
She later received a masters degree in applied mathematics from New York University.
She had kept her sexual orientation a secret from colleagues for years and met Spyer in 1963 at a restaurant.
They officially started dating in 1965 and in 1967, Spyer proposed to Windsor, which led to a long engagement of 40 years.
Spyer proposed with a diamond brooch, in order for the couple to keep their relationship a secret.
Windsor became a full-time carer eventually after Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977.
The couple entered a domestic partnership in 1993, then travelled to marry in Canada in 2002, after Spyer had a heart attack.
Following Spyer’s death, she met Judith Kasen at an LGBT rights event in 2015.
The couple moved in together in Manhattan, and married in 2016 following legalisation in all 50 states.