Edith “Edie” Windsor (née Schlain; June 20, 1929 – September 12, 2017) was an American LGBT rights activist and a technology manager at IBM. She was the lead plaintiff in the 2013 Supreme Court of the United States case United States v. Windsor, which overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and was considered a landmark legal victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States.
Windsor met Thea Spyer, an Amsterdam born psychologist, in Greenwich Village. When they met, each was in a relationship. They saw each other at events but it was not until a trip to the East End of Long Island in the late spring of 1965 that they began dating each other. To keep the relationship a secret, Windsor invented a relationship with Spyer’s fictional brother Willy (who was actually a childhood doll belonging to Windsor). In 1967, Spyer asked Windsor to marry, although it was not yet legal in the US. Fearing a traditional engagement ring might expose Windsor’s sexual orientation, Spyer instead proposed with a circular diamond pin.
Upon Spyer’s death in 2009, Windsor became the executor and sole beneficiary of Spyer’s estate, via a revocable trust. Windsor was required to pay $363,053 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance of her wife’s estate. Had federal law recognized the validity of their marriage, Windsor would have qualified for an unlimited spousal deduction and paid no federal estate taxes.
Windsor sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. She was barred from doing so by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which provided that the term “spouse” only applied to marriages between a man and woman. The Internal Revenue Service found that the exemption did not apply to same-sex marriages, denied Windsor’s claim, and compelled her to pay $363,053 in estate taxes.
In 2010 Windsor filed a lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking a refund because DOMA singled out legally married same-sex couples for “differential treatment compared to other similarly situated couples without justification.” In 2012, Judge Barbara S. Jones ruled that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional under the due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment and ordered the federal government to issue the tax refund, including interest. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in a 2–1 decision later in 2012.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in March 2013, and in June of that year issued a 5–4 decision affirming that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
Edie contributed generously to SAGE, a national advocacy and services organization that’s been looking out for LGBT elders since 1978. They build welcoming communities and keep LGBT issues in the national conversation to ensure a fulfilling future for all LGBT people. For more info, click HERE.