Widow takes marriage equality fight to Supreme Court


Edith “Edie” Windsor, who sued the government for failing to recognize her marriage to her wife Thea Spyer, asked the U.S. Supreme Court today to hear her challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.

In June, a federal district judge in New York ruled in Windsor’s favor, finding that section three of DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples. That section says that for federal purposes, marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

Already the Justice Department and the leadership of the House of Representatives have asked the Supreme Court to review DOMA in two other cases.

One, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, is similar to Windsor’s and is still before a federal appeals court.

“With Edie’s case and the two others, the High Court has before it striking illustrations of the many different harms that DOMA inflicts on many thousands of married same-sex couples all across the country,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Edie and Thea got married after making a life-long commitment to each other, and it’s just wrong for the government to pretend that they were legal strangers.”

Windsor and Spyer lived together for more than four decades in New York’s Greenwich Village. They were engaged in 1967, decades before any state recognized gay marriage, and they were legally married in May 2007.

When Spyer died in 2009, she left all of her property to Windsor. Spyer’s estate normally should have passed to Edie as her spouse without any estate tax, but because of DOMA, Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes.

Payment of the federal estate tax by a surviving spouse is one of the most significant adverse impacts of DOMA since the amount owed is often quite substantial.

“Edie Windsor, who recently celebrated her 83rd birthday, suffers from a serious heart condition,” said Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul Weiss and counsel to Windsor. “Because the District Court’s ruling in her favor is entitled to an automatic stay of enforcement, Edie cannot yet receive a refund of the unconstitutional estate tax that she was forced to pay simply for being gay. The constitutional injury inflicted on Edie should be remedied within her lifetime.”

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