Today, the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of California’s Prop 8, and tomorrow they will consider the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). It’s a huge moment for gay rights and marriage equality, as the verdicts in both of these cases have the potential to change the course of history. At the center of the DOMA case, Windsor v. United States, is an 83-year-old lesbian named Edith “Edie” Windsor, a former top programmer for IBM who was married in Canada in 2007 after a 40-year engagement to her wife, Thea. Windsor is ready to take her fight for equality to the national stage. “It’s almost a deliriously joyous thing for an old lady,” she says. Here are five things you might not know about this pearl-wearing powerhouse…
1. She was married to a man for a year. Edie was popular with the boys in high school, dated men exclusively throughout college, and got married after graduating from Temple University. Less than a year later, she couldn’t live a lie any longer, and requested a divorce. “I said, ‘Honey, you deserve more. You deserve someone who feels you’re the most desirable person, and I need something else.’ And I was right. He married the right girl and had a lovely life.”
2. Moving to New York City changed her life. After her divorce, Edie moved to New York, worked as a secretary, and got a master’s degree in mathematics from NYU. She also was finally able to live an honest life. “I came to New York to let myself be gay,” she told The New York Times in a recent interview. Unsure of how to proceed, she remained in the closet for months before pleading with a close friend, “If you know where the lesbians are, please take me.” Her friend took her to a Greenwich Village restaurant, where Edie met Thea Spyer, a brilliant psychologist who would become the love of her life.
3. She was engaged to her wife, Thea, for more than 40 years. On a drive to the countryside in 1967, Thea got down on one knee and asked Edie to marry her with a circular brooch adorned with diamonds (the couple didn’t want to pique the interest of nosy coworkers with an engagement ring). Edie said yes, and for the next 40 years, the couple waited for the chance to legally wed, but it never came. In 2007, as Thea’s multiple sclerosis worsened, the couple decided to jet off to Canada to make it official. They were married on May 22nd, 2007, in a ceremony that included two best men and four best women.
4. Her case against DOMA focuses on unfair tax laws. When Thea died in 2009, Edie was forced to pay more than $600,000 in state and federal estate taxes, because the government did not recognize her marriage as valid. “If Thea was Theo, I would not have had to pay that,” Edie explains. Her team of lawyers hope that using the tax angle will help sway even the more conservative Supreme Court Justices. “It’s just a terrible injustice, and I don’t expect that from my country. I think it’s a mistake that has to get corrected.”
5. In reality, her case is about much more than taxes. “The fact is, marriage is this magic thing,” Edie says. “I mean forget all the financial stuff, marriage symbolizes commitment and love like nothing else in the world. And it’s known all over the world. I mean, wherever you go, if you’re married, that means something to people, and it meant a difference in feeling the next day.”