Edith Windsor, a homosexual rights activist whose lawsuit prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), died Sept. 12 in New York. She was 88.
The Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor granted states the ability to legalize same-sex marriage and paved the way for nationwide legalization of the practice two years later in Obergefell v. Hodges. A National Public Radio (NPR) obituary called Windsor, whose cause of death has not been announced, “an octogenarian rock star in the gay rights community.”
Screen capture from CNN
Among homosexual rights advocates to mourn her death on Twitter were Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, who said in a statement he spoke with Windsor “a few days” before her death “to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country.”
Windsor emerged in the national spotlight after her 40-year same-sex partner Thea Spyer, who had legally married Windsor in Canada, died in 2009 and Windsor inherited her estate. Because U.S. law only exempted married heterosexual spouses from estate taxes, Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in taxes, The New York Times reported.
She sued, and the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with her, holding by a 5-4 majority that DOMA violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize same-sex marriages. The ruling granted same-sex couples tax and other benefits previously limited to marriages between a man and a woman.
Though the decision did not assert a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, evangelicals said it was “wrong” and a “subversion” of marriage.
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore said at the time, “Same-sex marriage is headed for your community. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. It’s a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told CNN the ruling marked a “stand-out, red-letter” day in American constitutional history.
The decision, Mohler predicted, “will be very devastating for our country for the long term, because what it means is the inevitable marginalization of marriage and the subversion of the most essential institution of human existence.”
Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page called the ruling “a wrong decision with far-reaching moral and religious liberty implications.”
Born in 1929, Windsor – her married name from a brief heterosexual marriage – held a master’s degree in applied mathematics from New York University and worked as a computer programmer at IBM from 1958-1975. She then became a homosexual-rights activist.
Windsor once told NPR “marriage is this magic thing” in the battle for homosexual rights. “I mean, forget all the financial stuff. Marriage … symbolizes commitment and love like nothing else in the world.”
She is survived by her second same-sex spouse Judith Kasen-Windsor.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)