Remembering Edie Windsor, the Dynamo Whose Case Paved the Way for Legal Same-Sex Marriage in the US

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

On this week’s Big Time Dicks, we take a break from focusing on the cabal of living nightmares running the country and focus instead on the legacy of gay rights icon Edie Windsor. Windsor, who died last week at 88 years old, helped lay the foundation for the legalization of same-sex marriage in America.

James Esseks, the Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, was part of the team that represented Windsor in her case against the federal government and served as counsel in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized gay marriage across the country. “Edie was a dynamo,” he told us. “Edie was just an amazing whirlwind of activity and the story that she could tell was heartrending.”


Windsor and her partner Thea Spyer met in 1967 and lived together for forty years, ultimately marrying in 2007 in Canada. Spyer died two years later of multiple sclerosis. But because their marriage wasn’t recognized in the United States under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Windsor inherited an estate tax that she would have been exempt from had she been part of a straight couple. Windsor challenged the federal government, taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court. On June 26, 2013, SCOTUS ruled in her favor, knocking down DOMA in 13 states and Washington DC, and paving the way for Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015.

Esseks spoke to us about the day Windsor learned about the ruling. “It’s pandemonium,” he recalled. “We’re connected by speakerphone with Edie. She was exalting everybody. Everybody was hooting and hollering. It was the culmination of years of work. And it was a validation by the Supreme Court of the United States of the equality and liberty of principles that we had been fighting for for such a long time and it was an affirmation of the dignity of Edie and Thea and same-sex couples all across the country.”

The Windsor case led to a series of victories for same-sex couples across the country. “Once Edie’s decision comes out, federal trial courts all around the country start ruling for same-sex couples who have sued,” Esseks said. “Edie’s case set in motion the next two years of amazing change that culminated in Obergefell. And I think what the two cases give us is a recognition by the US Supreme Court that Justice Kennedy talks about, the equal dignity of same-sex couples and their relationships.”

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Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.


Cherith Cutestory

I wouldn’t normally share a link from slate but I think these photos of Edie Windsor are a great backdrop to this.