Jun

30

One evening in 1965, Edith “Edie” Windsor (b. 1929) met Thea Spyer at Portofino, an Italian restaurant in New York’s West Village. As the evening blossomed into night, they found themselves at a friend’s impromptu apartment party, dancing until the early hours of the morning — so intensely that Edie danced a hole through her stockings. As they parted ways that night, they didn’t meet again for another two years, until they eventually crossed paths on Memorial Day weekend of 1967, at a friend’s house in the Hamptons.

"It was a feeling of complete delight in being with her. I had a real sense of ‘I’ve landed in my life,’” Thea — by then Dr. Spyer, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Manhattan — recalled of that encounter. A few months later, they were engaged. It was the landing of a love that would last nearly half a century.

For the next four decades, the two waltzed together through life and love, and Edie devoted herself to taking care of Thea, whose health was slowly being claimed by the esurient grip of multiple sclerosis and who eventually became fully quadriplegic. In 2007, the couple was lawfully married in Ontario, Canada — a marriage legally recognized in New York under common-law principles of comity. When Spyer died in 2009, she left her entire estate to Windsor, who believed she’d qualify for the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. But Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act maintained that the term “spouse” only applied to a marriage between a man and woman and not to same-sex marriages. Bereaved after having just lost the love of her life, Edie now found herself owing the Internal Revenue Service $363,053 in estate taxes.

So, she sued the government for this undemocratic and allegedly lawful injustice.

On November 9, 2010, Windsor filed a lawsuit seeking a refund due to DOMA’s discrimination against legally married same-sex couples who so systematically and flagrantly receive “differential treatment compared to other similarly situated couples without justification.” Over the two years that followed, Edie tirelessly pushed the case up the ladder of the legal system, from the District Court to the Court of Appeals to, finally, the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on March 27, 2013.

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of Edie and her case, deeming DOMA unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment.” The court wrote:

DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency. […] DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives. Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways.

That day, President Obama called Edie to deliver the happy news — a landmark moment in the history of American democracy and human equality, made possible by the unrelenting spirit of a widow in her eighties.

When asked to comment on what love is after the ruling, Edie added to history’s finest definitions of love, quoting Auden:

Love is a million things. It’s like the word marriage… It’s magical. It’s hard, I hadn’t thought about it. There’s a hunk of a poem by Auden: “For now I have the answer from the face That never will go back into a book But asks for all my life, and is the Place Where all I touch is moved to an embrace, And there is no such things as a vain look.”

Thank you, Edie, for everything that will never go back into a book.

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