In 2013, the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling that began the the process of legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States. Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in that case and a celebrity of LGBT advocacy, died on Tuesday at the age of 88.
All Edith wanted was a tax refund. After 40 years of partnership, her partner, Thea Spyer, died and left Edith her estate in 2009. But even though the couple had legally wed in Canada in 2007, the Internal Revenue Service refused to acknowledge their union, denying Edith the spousal exemption from federal estate taxes that heterosexual couples received. She had to pay $363,053 in taxes.
She brought her case to court, challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996 as unconstitutional. By defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the law excluded same-sex couples from the federal privileges granted to heterosexuals.
After two lower courts sided with Edith, the United States Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in support of striking down DOMA. The case, United States v. Windsor, did not legalize gay marriage, but it opened up the floodgates for the subsequent rulings that did.
Edith became a cause de celebre in her own right. After the ruling, President Barack Obama called Edith to congratulate her. She was made a grand marshal of New York City’s L.G.B.T. Pride March and Time magazine named her the runner-up to the person of the year—just behind Pope Francis.
On Tuesday, Obama issued a statement on Edith, saying, “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.”
The 2013 Supreme Court decision was “a great day for America,” he added, “a victory for human decency, equality, freedom and justice.”
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