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Wed Sep 13, 2017, 04:44 PM

That time Edie Windsor got angry -- and changed America

By Jonathan Capehart September 13 at 9:36 AM

Seeing the news should not have been as shocking as it was. When Edie Windsor died on Tuesday, she was 88 years old. She lived a long, beautiful life in New York filled with friends and love. But my husband and I, along with thousands of same-sex couples in the United States, lost a heroine — a status Windsor achieved on June 26, 2013.

On that date, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that a key part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. The sole purpose of that mean-spirited 1996 law was to deny the rights, responsibilities and dignity that confer with marriage to same-sex couples. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion, “DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.” Windsor’s challenge to the law gave Kennedy and the court yet another opportunity to make this a more perfect union for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans.

The love of Windsor’s life was Thea Spyer, a woman she met more than 40 years earlier in the Big Apple. Photographs of the two of them reveal an elegant couple reveling in each other’s company. In 2007, they legally married in Canada — a union that was recognized by the state of New York. Two years later, Spyer died, and the federal government made Windsor pay $363,053 in estate taxes because DOMA prevented her from being recognized as the surviving spouse by the federal government. With the help of another heroine, Roberta Kaplan, a partner at the powerhouse law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Windsor legally challenged DOMA. And won.

At an event in New York I did with Windsor and Kaplan just a month after the court victory, someone asked Windsor how she would like to be remembered in 50 years. Windsor’s thoughts were with same-sex couples where one in the relationship was not an American. There was one story that gained national attention of a deportation proceeding of a gay Colombian man despite being legally married to a U.S. citizen that was stopped minutes after the Supreme Court decision. Windsor said that she hoped that time in 2013 would be remembered as “the time when everybody [who had] an out-of-country partner [could] bring them home to America.”


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