Berlin Sylvestre, Staff Writer
America owes Edith Windsor an intense debt of gratitude, no matter what the Supreme Court decides tomorrow.
Edith “Edie” Windsor is the very reason we’re waiting with baited breath on the Supreme Court to rule on whether the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is constitutional. The sole pioneer to challenge DOMA’s Section III, which denies federal benefits for same-sex spouses even if the state they live in recognizes gay marriage, Mrs. Windsor has called foul on the system and promises to fight for inequality until her last breath.
There’s a life-sized picture of her late ex-wife, Thea Spyer, on the wall of Edie’s apartment … the one they’d lived in for more than four decades before Thea passed away from complications related to multiple sclerosis. At times, Edie will lean against the portrait and speak to Thea about the progress she’s making around the nation, attending Pride rallies and holding politicians’ feet to the fire on Capitol Hill. To her, Thea is still here … in the spirit of the struggle, in the spirit of justice, and in the spirit of their love.
Their story began in a New York City restaurant, Portofino, in 1963.
Edie, a recent divorcée, begged a platonic friend to take her to a place where lesbians hung out.
As fate would have it, Edie wound up at the same place Thea was eating with friends. Thea, a well-spoken psychology Ph.D from Adelphi University, caught Edie’s eye (and mind) immediately and they danced until they literally “danced a hole through the bottom of one of Edie’s stockings.”
The two remained friends for the next two years, then took it another step and gave a relationship a try. It was a smashing success.
In 1967, four years after they met, Thea proposed to Edie. On one knee, she presented Edie with a circular diamond pendant rather than a traditional ring. Naturally, the answer was yes.
The two bought a New York apartment near Washington Square and became globetrotters, traveling regularly together, still in love, still courting one another throughout their forty-two year relationship. They lead a life most can only dream of.
At 45, Thea was diagnosed with MS. She slowly lost the ability to perform every day tasks, so Edie retired early to care for her.
By 2002, a mostly paralyzed and wheelchair-bound Thea was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, a cardiovascular condition. Through a haze of sickness, Thea asked Edie if she still wanted to marry her. Again, her natural response was yes. With that, thirty years after the two were engaged, the couple officially wed in Toronto.
Sadly, Thea would not live to see their second anniversary.
Still reeling from the loss of the only woman she had ever loved, Edie was dealt another blow by the only country she called home.
When Thea’s estate was passed down onto Edie, the federal government siphoned $363,000 from her inheritance. This was because the couple, though legally wed in a state that recognized their marriage, lived in a nation that did not. This was because the U.S. legislative body decided in 1996 that same-sex couples weren’t entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples. This was because of DOMA.
Edie lawyered up and had such a case, the only ruling body who could tackle such an issue was The Supreme Court of the United States.
And that they have.
Today, the ruling on whether DOMA is constitutional will be handed down upon the nation with the possibility of changing the lives of millions of Americans who live beneath the umbrella of second-class citizenry.
Regardless of the outcome, the nation will always remember the courage and fortitude of Edie Windsor, and best believe: She’ll be there right alongside us today with Thea’s spirit in tow and the circular pendant representing their undying love pinned firmly to the lapel above her heart.