The United States v. Windsor case from 2013 is a case not as well known in the public eye. Famous cases such as Brown v. Board, or Roe. v Wade shadow the small and recent case. However, for the LGBTQ+ community, the case is paramount in the fight for their rights.
Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the case, was a prominent LGBTQ+ activist and feminist figure, with her biggest accomplishment – the victory of United States v. Windsor – solidifying her presence among activists and the fight for equality across the country, as well as leading to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The youngest of three children, she was born to her immigrant parents in 1929. Windsor became aware of her homosexuality during her years at Temple University, yet due to the social climate, hid her sexuality. In response, she married her brother’s best friend.
Within a year, they parted ways amicably. In 1965, Edith met Thea Spyer, a Ph.D. psychologist and accomplished violinist, who became her spouse.
Their lives took a turn when Spyer developed multiple sclerosis, and as her condition became terminal, the two journeyed to Canada to officially marry.
In 2009, Spyer passed, leaving her entire estate to Windsor. However, in 1996, Congress passed DOMA, which defined marriage, for all federal purposes, as a union between man and woman.
DOMA denied same-sex couples all benefits and recognition given to heterosexual couples, including more than a thousand federal protections and privileges, such as their legal recognition, access to a partner’s employment benefits, inheritance rights, joint tax returns and tax exemptions, immigration or residency for noncitizen partners, next-of-kin status and even protection from domestic violence.
Under DOMA, a non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship would have been unable to establish a legal relationship with the child or children of the biological parent. Additionally, they were not allowed to take family medical leave to care for such children or their partners, to adopt children, or to petition the court for child support, visitation, or custody if the relationship ended.
Supporters of DOMA concluded that hetero-sex marriage was the only ‘correct’ circumstance for reproduction and family building. Opponents argued that such narrow definitions of marriage and family devalued any other type of relationship discriminated based on sex, and combined homosexuality with incest and polygamy. The law, signed by President Bill Clinton, received overwhelming support within Congress when there was speculation that Hawaii was going to recognize same-sex marriage, which would have made other states recognize same-sex marriages that occurred over there. After the law was passed, over 40 states enacted bans on same-sex marriage.
Being a queer woman during a time when the LGBTQ+ community struggled to be accepted was difficult, however, the backlash did not scare Edith Windsor. Windsor’s bravery inspired many others, and her feats were one in a string of many victories led by brave individuals the LGBTQ+ movement experienced in 2013.
Supporting local organizations within your community, or large-scale organizations is a way to continue the activism needed for our society. To continue Edith Windsor’s legacy, the Edie Windsor & Thea Spyer Foundation accepts donations in order to fund their peaceful way of pushing for the continuation of marriage equality.
Unfortunately, the LGBTQ+ community still faces discrimination daily. In more recent news, the transgender and drag community has been the target of discriminatory legislation, as well as other groups in the LGBTQ+ community. However, like Windsor, various organizations have continued to fight against the bigotry written into the laws of our nation. Supporting local organizations within your community, or large-scale organizations is a way to continue the activism needed for our society. To continue Edith Windsor’s legacy, the Edie Windsor & Thea Spyer Foundation accepts donations to fund their peaceful way of pushing for the continuation of marriage equality.
You can get involved in the fight for equality fight today by joining the It's Her Right community, attending our seminars, and staying connected.
Image Credit: The Seattle Times