Edith Windsor, Gay Rights Advocate Who Paved The Way For National Same-Sex Marriage, Dies At 88

Windsor, outside the Supreme Court after oral arguments in Windsor v. United States
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Windsor, outside the Supreme Court after oral arguments in Windsor v. United States Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Edith Windsor, whose lawsuit against the United States over the federal government's refusal to recognize gay marriage eventually led to the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, died today in Manhattan at the age of 88.

The Supreme Court's Windsor decision, handed down in 2013, ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional and opened the door for residents of 13 states which recognized gay marriage to qualify for federal benefits that marriage conferred. After the decision was announced, then-President Barack Obama called it "justice that arrives like a thunderbolt."

Mayor Bill de Blasio marked Windsor's passing with a tweet in which he said that sometimes people like her need to give the arc of the moral universe "a good kick in the ass."

Windsor's case hinged on whether DOMA subjected her to unequal treatment under the law, after she was forced to pay almost $400,000 in estate taxes when her wife died. Windsor had married Dr. Thea Spyer in 2007 in a ceremony in Canada, and while their marriage was recognized in New York, the federal government still did not recognize the union.

Spyer and Windsor got married when Spyer was 75 and Windsor 77, after they had been dating for 40 years. Their wedding announcement after they decided to get married in Canada also mentioned that they met in 1965 at the West Village restaurant Portofino, and began dating two years later after they met again at a Memorial Day party.

The Supreme Court didn't determine whether there was a right to gay marriage nationally in Windsor's case, but the decision to strike down DOMA by a 5-4 vote led to what the Times called "an avalanche" of lawsuits challenging anti-gay marriage laws across the country. That in turn eventually led to the Supreme Court extending the right across the country in 2015.

After Windsor won her case, she showed up at the NYC LGBT Center and told reporters assembled there that "I think it's the end of teenagers falling in love and not knowing what the future holds."

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