Edith ‘Edie’ Windsor, whose legal fight for same-sex couples marriage equality resulted in the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, has passed away at age 88. Her passing was confirmed by her wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, though no cause was revealed.
“Today, we lost one of this country’s great civil rights pioneers, Edie Windsor,” Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “The wheels of progress turn forward because of people like Edie who are willing to stand up in the face of injustice. One simply cannot write the history of the gay rights movement without reserving immense credit and gratitude for Edie Windsor. We were proud to stand with Edie when she took her fight on behalf of same-sex couples everywhere to the Supreme Court.
“We mourn her today, as do all whom she touched in her incredible life. Edie always urged others not to ‘postpone joy.’ So even as we mourn this terrible loss, we also celebrate Edie, who set an example for all of us to follow.”
Windsor’s fight for equality began with a tax refund. Windsor had married her partner of 40 years, Thea Spyer, legally in Canada in 2007. When Spyer passed in 2009, Windsor inherited her estate. Because of 1996’s Defense of Marriage Act, the IRS denied her spousal exemption from federal estate taxes, a right available to heterosexual couples, and she had to pay taxes of $363,053.00. Windsor sued on the grounds that the law, in recognizing only opposite-sex marriages, unconstitutionally penalized same-sex couples.
In 2013, the Supreme Court made a ruling on Windsor’s suit, limiting gay marriage to 13 states and the District of Columbia. A more expansive ruling by the Court in 2015 struck down the Defense of Marriage Act by nullifying the act’s definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. However, the decision did not specify if there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriages and did not overturn laws in 37 states that banned those unions.
Despite not being a total decision that completely legalized same-sex marriages, the Windsor ruling was seen as a major victory for LGBT rights.
“I had the privilege to speak with Edie a few days ago, and to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement shortly after Windsor’s passing. “Because people like Edie stood up, my administration stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the courts.”