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25th September 2017

Remembering the mother of marriage equality, Edie Windsor

In the wake of the death of Edie Windsor, James Johnson pays tribute to a woman who – in the name of love – took on the American government

In 2013, Edie Windsor rode on the back of a red Ford Mustang along Fifth Avenue, soaking in her ground-breaking victory and realising her new celebrity status as an LGBT icon.

It was the landmark case that changed the lives of thousands of Americans forever and the story of a small, but mighty woman, who took on the Supreme Court of The United States — and triumphed.

In the years before becoming an icon of equality, Edie Windsor chose to marry her lifelong partner, Thea Spyer, in the Spring of 2007. As the United States Government were yet to recognise same-sex marriage, Edie and her wife opted to marry in Toronto.

Upon Spyer’s death in 2009, Windsor was ordered to pay over $350,000 in federal taxes, after inheriting her late wife’s estate.

Although Windsor attempted to benefit from an estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, the Defence of Marriage Act, or ‘DOMA” as it was then known, prevented her from doing so. Article 3 of  ‘DOMA’ provided tax exemptions only to those marriages that were between a man and woman.

Rather than succumb to the barriers set forth by the American Government, Windsor became the lead plaintiff in the landmark case ‘United States v. Windsor’.

In her fight against the unconstitutional grounding of ‘DOMA’, Windsor succeeded in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, forcing 13 states to recognise same-sex marriage and paving the way for the 2015 ruling that legalised same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

In one of many heart-rending speeches at Edie’s funeral in New York City last week, Hillary Clinton told the congregation “thank you for proving that love is more powerful than hate; for filling us with a sense of possibility and promise”. Clinton spoke of Edie’s unwavering determination as being the reason for her becoming such an immovable force in the history of gay rights.

Edie spent a life breaking down barriers. She achieved the rare feat of becoming one of the first female computer programmers at IBM. She was honoured by the National Computing Conference as a Pioneer of Operating systems. Later, she would take on the United States Supreme Court in her eighties with a difficult heart condition — and win.

Edie Windsor’s life and passing is a pertinent reminder to recognise those lives spent fighting in the trenches for equality — helping change perceptions and attitudes the world over.

“Though she may be but little, she is fierce”, wrote Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Edie Windsor may have been small in her stature, but the magnitude of her persistence will remain fixed upon the steps of the United States Supreme Court, and her efforts will be thanked forever.

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