On Tuesday, after reports of Edith Windsor's death, former President Barack Obama posted a remembrance on Facebook in honor of the woman whose persistence led to nationwide marriage equality. "Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America," Obama wrote, referring to Windsor by her nickname.
Windsor, who was 88 at the time of her death, became famous after she sued the federal government for taxing a bequest from her late partner, Thea Spyer. The two women had been together for over 40 years, and married in Canada in 2007, since same-sex marriage was legal there. No married heterosexual couple would have faced the $360,000 tax Windsor was presented with, and the landmark Windsor v. the United States case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 2013. "If Thea was Theo, I would not have had to pay that," Windsor told NPR at the time. "It's heartbreaking. 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."
In a 5-4 ruling, with the determining vote cast by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the nation's highest court struck down the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 federal law that barred same-sex couples from getting married. "The day that the Supreme Court issued its 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor was a great day for Edie, and a great day for America – a victory for human decency, equality, freedom, and justice. And I called Edie that day to congratulate," Obama, who was president at the time, wrote in his statement.
"DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriage of others," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the ruling, according to NPR. "No legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state ... sought to protect in personhood and in dignity."
After the Supreme Court ruling, Windsor became an icon within the LGBTQ rights movement. "The wheels of progress turn forward because of people like Edie, who are willing to stand up in the face of injustice," Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, according to CNN. "One simply cannot write the history of the gay rights movement without reserving immense credit and gratitude for Edie Windsor."
See below for the full text of Obama's note:
America’s long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what’s right.
Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America.
I had the privilege to speak with Edie a few days ago, and to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love. She was engaged to her partner, Thea, for forty years. After a wedding in Canada, they were married for less than two. But federal law didn’t recognize a marriage like theirs as valid – which meant that they were denied certain federal rights and benefits that other married couples enjoyed. And when Thea passed away, Edie spoke up – not for special treatment, but for equal treatment – so that other legally married same-sex couples could enjoy the same federal rights and benefits as anyone else.
In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. And because people like Edie stood up, my administration stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the courts. The day that the Supreme Court issued its 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor was a great day for Edie, and a great day for America – a victory for human decency, equality, freedom, and justice. And I called Edie that day to congratulate her. Two years later, to the day, we took another step forward on our journey as the Supreme Court recognized a Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality. It was a victory for families, and for the principle that all of us should be treated equally, regardless of who we are or who we love. I thought about Edie that day. I thought about all the millions of quiet heroes across the decades whose countless small acts of courage slowly made an entire country realize that love is love – and who, in the process, made us all more free. They deserve our gratitude. And so does Edie.
Michelle and I offer our condolences to her wife, Judith, and to all who loved and looked up to Edie Windsor.