Edith Windsor, an LGBTQ rights activist who played a major role in the legal fight over same-sex marriage rights, passed away on Tuesday. Windsor was 88 years old.
Windsor lost her wife, Thea Spyer, in 2009, whom she had a relationship with since the 1960s. The couple entered into a domestic partnership in the 1990s and married in Toronto, Canada in 2007. Their marriage still was not recognized in New York. When Spyer died, Windsor inherited the estate but she was denied an unlimited spousal exemption from federal estate taxes. This left her with a bill over $360,000.
Windsor sued and her case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. In doing so, the Court struck down the act’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and recognized those marriage benefits, but did not say people have a right to marry people of the same sex, so people in states with laws banning same-sex marriage were out of luck. The case was still a major step forward for same-sex marriage, however, and there were many lawsuits against same-sex marriage bans that followed in the wake of her victory. Same-sex marriage became legal for all Americans in June of 2015.
Windsor worked as a senior systems programmer at IBM until 1975, when fighting for LGBTQ rights became her full-time career. She wore her hair in an iconic blonde bob and was often photographed wearing pearls.
For her work advancing same-sex marriage rights, people in the LGBTQ community thanked her on social media and major news publications. On Wednesday, the New York Times published a piece from Rhea Butcher, a comedian and actress married to fellow comedian and actress Cameron Esposito, called, “Edie Windsor Gave Me My Life.” Butcher recalled having conversations with her then girlfriend and now wife’s parents about the 2013 decision. Two days after the court ruling, Butcher asked Esposito to marry her. Butcher wrote:
I showed her my wedding ring and said “thank you.” She beamed and said something to me, but I don’t remember what because my brain was too busy realizing I was standing next to Edie Windsor. We took one photo together, she and Judith left, and I wandered over to some friends that had come to the show, stunned that I had just met the woman who gave me my television show, my marriage and my life.
Steven Thrasher, who covered her case and interviewed her, wrote for The Guardian, “Edie didn’t give up after her victory. She was a fixture at marches and events for homeless LGBT kids, lesbian rights and violence against queer people. She fell in love and married again a year ago. She was a model of what it means to be an engaged citizen. What a life. Thank you, Edie.”
LGBTQ publications and queer and trans activists, celebrities, politicians, and journalists thanked Edie for her work on social media.
It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing of Edith Windsor. We are endlessly indebted to her. Rest in peace, Edith. pic.twitter.com/Ck4unnH1ff
— Out Magazine (@outmagazine) September 12, 2017
— Autostraddle (@autostraddle) September 12, 2017
Sara Ramirez, an actress who is outspoken on LGBTQ rights and came out as bisexual last year, thanked Edith for her work in the LGBTQ community.
— Sara Ramirez (@SaraRamirez) September 12, 2017
Gavin Grimm, an activist for transgender students, called her a hero.
A hero has left us. https://t.co/DDmHjPwV9V
— Gavin Grimm (@GavinGrimmVA) September 12, 2017
Steve Silberman, a journalist and the author of a Neurotribes, a book about neurodiversity, said Windsor changed the course of his life.
On Edith Windsor's death: I often felt suicidal in highschool b/c I thought folks like me could never hope to get married. She changed that. pic.twitter.com/NfJpMTpDRU
— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) September 12, 2017
Keith Boykin, a political commentator and pioneer for LGBTQ rights in the Clinton White House, tweeted about her legacy.
RIP Edith Windsor, a pioneer for marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. https://t.co/Dpvf1gBTMQ
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) September 12, 2017
Major political figures such as former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Democratic senators such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) thanked Windsor for her years of tireless service to the LGBTQ community.
— HumanRightsCampaign (@HRC) September 12, 2017
But her wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, may have summed up the enormous impact of Windsor’s life on the LGBTQ community best in just a few words. She called Windsor a “tough as nails fight for freedom” and wrote “She will always be the light for the LGBTQ community which she loved so much and which loved her right back.”