Supreme Court Strikes DOMA, and You Have an 84-Year-Old Woman to Thank


domaToday the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act, “the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states,” unconstitutional, according to The Huffington Post. Those of us that believe in marriage rights for all have an 84-year-old woman to thank for this incredible turn of events, and I’m not talking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (She’s only 80.) I’m talking about Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR, the case that struck DOMA and guaranteed spousal benefits to thousands of gay couples living in states that recognize same-sex marriage.

As is noted in the Opinion of the Court:

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer met in New York City in 1963 and began a long-term relationship. Windsor and Spyer registered as domestic partners when New York City gave that right to same-sex couples in 1993. Concerned about Spyer’s health, the couple made the 2007 trip to Canada for their marriage, but they continued to reside in New York City. The State of New York deems their Ontario marriage to be a valid one.

Spyer died in February 2009, and left her entire estate to Windsor. Because DOMA denies federal recognition to same-sex spouses, Windsor did not qualify for the marital exemption from the federal estate tax, which excludes from taxation “any interest in property which passes or has passed from the decedent to his surviving spouse.” Windsor paid $363,053 in estate taxes and sought a refund. The Internal Revenue Service denied the refund, concluding that, under DOMA, Windsor was not a “surviving spouse.” Windsor commenced this refund suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She contended that DOMA violates the guarantee of equal protection, as applied to the Federal Government through the Fifth Amendment.

The Opinion of the Court goes on to explain the history of the case, which is quite complicated. It actually involves 15 other plaintiffs, but it all started with Edie Windsor, and her beautiful love story with Thea Spyer. Windsor told The Huffington Post, her case is “bigger than marriage, and I think marriage is major. I think if we win, the effect will be the beginning of the end of stigma.” Back in March, BuzzFeed ran an incredible set of photos that tell Windsor and Spyer’s love story, and if you haven’t seen them, I highly recommend you go look. Because what also serves to end stigma is the humanizing of people who are misunderstood, and the story that Windsor’s photos tell is one of the kind of deep love and commitment all married couples hope to share. Now, thanks to Edie Windsor and the Supreme Court, that love just got a little easier.

Windsor spoke to President Barack Obama after the results of her case were declared, and she told him, “I think your coming out for us made such a difference throughout the country.”