After the Supreme Court struck down The Defense of Marriage Act this morning, Edith Windsor, the 5-foot-tall, 84-year-old woman whose lawsuit led to the national gay rights victory, finally had something to celebrate.
And, despite her trust in the legal team defending her, Ms. Windsor, standing before a packed LGBT Center room in Greenwich village, said she was unsure about the outcome of the 5-4 ruling before today.
“I prepared three speeches, one was total win, one was as applied, which was a possibility and one was total loss,” Ms. Windsor said. But when she heard the news, Ms. Windsor said her first reaction was tears.
“Because of today’s Supreme Court ruling, the federal government can no longer discriminate against the marriages of gay and lesbian Americans,” Ms. Windsor declared as she launched into her remarks. “Children born today will grow up in a world without DOMA. And those same children who happen to be gay will be free to love and get married, the way I did, but with the same federal benefits, protections and dignity as everyone else.”
During her emotional speech, Ms. Windsor also recalled the sorrowful events that resulted in her case going before the Supreme Court. Ms. Windsor had been together with Thea Spyer for 40 years at the time of their marriage in 2007. When Ms. Spyer passed away in 2009, Ms. Windsor was asked to pay over $363,000 in federal estate taxes. She decided to fight the system instead.
Reflecting, Ms. Windsor recalled the memory of her colleagues finding out about her same-sex marriage through news reports.
“When our marriage was announced in The New York Times, people were [saying] I lied, ‘Edie even to a close friend, you lied.’ I couldn’t help it,” she said. “Internalized homophobia is a big bitch.”
The elbow-to-elbow crowd reacted similarly. For instance, the 60-year-old Jo Ann Shain found it difficult to accurately describe what the day meant to her but managed to praise Ms. Windsor’s actions.
“To see what Edie Windsor did, to take on the federal government for full rights that all married couples really deserve, but were denied us, same-sex couples, because of who we are and who we love. She is our hero,” Ms. Shain said.
She and her spouse, Mary-Jo Kennedy, were involved in a lawsuit with the State of New York to obtain marriage licenses in 2004, before it was legalized in the state. Their 24-year-old daughter, Aliya, was also in attendance.
As the weight of the day began to sink in for 37-year-old Paul Menard, director of cultural programs at the Center, he tearfully spoke about the meaning of the Supreme Court ruling for members of the LGBT community.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up in a world where you’re seen as being a whole person,” he said. “Because I didn’t have that.”
For her part, Ms. Windsor said her late wife would think the years-long fight was worth it in the end.
“If I had to survive Thea, what a glorious way to do it,” Ms. Windsor said. “And she would be so pleased.”