Edith Windsor (Pic: Rex Block)
Lesbian activist Edith Windsor, who became an icon for marriage equality in the US, has passed away in New York at the age of 88.
Windsor’s huge impact on LGBTQ Americans followed a 44-year-long romance with psychologist Thea Spyer, which began in 1965 and included the couple marrying in Canada in 2007.
After Spyer died in 2009, the activist and former IBM employee, sued the federal government when she was refused spousal deductions on $363,000 in estate taxes.
While same-sex marriage was legal in some US states at the time, the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) blocked these unions from being recognised by the federal government. This meant that Windsor was not entitled to deductions and tax benefits granted to heterosexual married couples.
In 2013, the US Supreme Court finally ruled in Windsor’s favour and struck down DOMA “as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment”.
It was a major victory for marriage equality and the judgment laid the foundation for the same court to formally legalise same-sex marriage across the US in 2015.
“Married is a magic word,” Windsor said in 2009. “And it is magic throughout the world. It has to do with our dignity as human beings, to be who we are openly.”
HRC President Chad Griffin commented in response to her death: “Edie Windsor is a hero and civil rights icon who pushed our country closer to the promise of a more perfect union.
“Future generations will learn how she faced down discrimination with courage and defiance, and boldly challenged the United States government to treat her marriage to Thea Spyer equally under the law – as our Constitution guarantees.”
Windsor was also praised by former president Barack Obama. “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,” said Obama.
“Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America,” he added.
Windsor, who died on Tuesday, is survived by her second wife, Judith Kasen, whom she married in 2016.