Edith Windsor: The champion of same-sex marriage
If the name Edith Windsor– or “Edie” — rings a bell, it’s because she helped paved the way for same sex marriage when she sued the United States of America for real estate taxes that she inherited from her late wife’s properties.
She won, after which the usually closeted lesbian became a household name and role model for the LGBTQ because of this 2013 landmark win.
What’s more, the case of United States vs Windsor made the very anti-LGBTQ Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) completely unconstitutional and brought about states to one by one legalize same sex marriage. The rest, as they say, is history.
Edith Windsor: Clueless and closeted
Born in 1929 to Russian immigrants James and Celia Schlain, Edith grew up in the poor side of Philadelphia.
Although their finances were greatly affected the by The Great Depression, her father scrimped on his food to give a good life to his family.
When Edith was growing up, she would have dates with boys every Saturday night, yet she would also find herself admiring girls. She had no concept of same-sex feelings, nor did she think of herself as a lesbian.
“I didn’t even know about it,” she remembered. “The first time I became aware, I was at a college party with a boy and I was in the kitchen, and the hostess came in and said, ‘Do you have homosexual relations?’ And I pulled myself together, and I said, ‘On occasion.’ I never had.”
While acknowledging to have feelings for girls, she decided to marry Paul Windsor because she didn’t want to be a lesbian. The marriage lasted less than a year when she told him she wanted a different life.
Edith Windsor meets Thea Spyer
Edith moved to New York to lead a more open lifestyle and she went to work at IBM in 1958.
In 1963 she met the beautiful Dutch girl named Thea Spyer, who came from a rich, cultured family. Thea played the violin, spoke Dutch, and was expelled from Sarah Lawrence when she was caught kissing another girl.
The two wouldn’t separate for 46 years. While they got engaged in 1967, the two were selective about who to reveal their relationship to. At that time, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness.
With Edith’s work at IBM and Thea’s practice as a psychologist, the two led a comfortable life. They entertained their gay friends, traveled a lot, and got quietly involved with LGBT activism.
Edith Windsor and DOMA
Already diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Thea then developed a heart condition in 2007. The two decided to get married in Canada. Thea eventually died in 2009 and left her estate to Windsor.
At that time, DOMA was passed into law protecting the sanctity of marriage of man and woman. Because of this, Edith was taxed $363,053 for the estate.
Under DOMA, Edith’s marriage to Thea wasn’t recognized by the federal government and she wasn’t exempt from estate taxes.
Edith Windsor fights the government
With the help of lesbian lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, Edith sued the US government to return her payment that year.
It was a serendipitous moment as the country was starting to warm up to same-sex marriage. In 2013, she won her case, and the Supreme Court called Section 3 of the DOMA unconstitutional.
Because of the decision, New Jersey legalized same sex marriage, followed by New Mexico, then New York, and other states.
Last year, Edith married LGBT activist and VP at Wells Fargo Judith Kasen. Edith said: “I was empty and then this woman walked into my life.” The two currently live in New York.