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88-year-old gay-rights trailblazer Edith Windsor died on Sept. 12, and if you don’t know her name, it’s time you learn. Windsor was often referred to as an “unlikely activist,” but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a history-making and persistent one. It all started when Windsor met and fell in love with Thea Spyer in Manhattan in 1963. The two women shared a life together for more than four decades, officially marrying in Canada in 2007.
When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor found she was on the hook for $363,000 in federal estate taxes — all because their marriage wasn’t recognized as valid in the United States. “If Thea was Theo, I would not have had to pay,” Windsor told NPR in 2013. It was this injustice that set Windsor on a path to challenge — and eventually win her case against — the United States over the Defense of Marriage Act.
On March 28th, 2013, Windsor gave a speech on the steps of the Supreme Court, just after oral arguments in the case concluded. “I wanted to tell you what marriage meant to me,” she told the crowd. “It’s kind of crazy — we lived together for 40 years. We were engaged with a circle diamond pin because I wouldn’t wear a ring, because I was still in the closet. I am today an out lesbian who just sued the United States of America, which is kind of overwhelming for me.” Windsor was wearing the diamond pin that day.
Just a few short months later, on June 26, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The decision set a precedent that gay and lesbian Americans have equal protection under the constitution and paved the way for another historic decision: when the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal nationwide in 2015. You can watch Windsor’s entire emotional and uplifting speech above. She will be missed, but her activism — and her love story — won’t soon be forgotten.
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