Tributes are flowing in for Edie Windsor, the Jewish woman whose lawsuit led to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Her Supreme Court case successfully challenged and shot down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, thus legalizing same-sex marriage federally. Windsor died on Tuesday in Manhattan at age 88, according to the New York Times.
Windsor married her wife Judith Kasen-Windsor in 2016, although prior to Judith, she lived with Thea Spyer for 40 years until Spyer’s death in 2009. She had been previously married to a man. While she initially sued after Spyer’s death because she “just wanted a tax refund,” Windsor did feel regret over not being able to have children legally with a same-sex spouse:
Ms. Windsor told The New Yorker that being childless was the hardest part of her lesbian life. But as the years passed, children, like marriage, seemed hopelessly beyond reach; one was impractical, the other illegal.
Of course, being able to marry your partner is an important and crucial choice for everyone to have, as the Times pointed out:
But for thousands struggling for gender equality, the stakes went far beyond tax advantages available to married heterosexuals, including Social Security, health care and veterans’ benefits; protection in immigration and bankruptcy cases; and keeping a home after a spouse had died, as well as food stamps, green cards and federal aid to the poor, the elderly and children.
So, what exactly happened to Windsor to spur the infamous lawsuit that changed history?
After the two had lived together for 40 years and married in Canada in 2007, Spyer, a psychologist, died in 2009, leaving Windsor her estate. However, as the Times explained, “the Internal Revenue Service denied her the unlimited spousal exemption from federal estate taxes available to married heterosexuals, and she had to pay taxes of $363,053.”
So, she sued, claiming “that the law, by recognizing only marriages between a man and a woman, unconstitutionally singled out same-sex marriage partners for ‘differential treatment.’” And thankfully she did, or same-sex marriage may not have been legalized. That’s something we all need to be grateful for every day.