October is LGBT History Month! Edie Windsor was a pioneer for same-sex marriage and its benefits!
When our gay son was in his twenties, before President Obama’s evolvement of “sacred” civil marriage unions and President Clinton’s signature on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), he announced at dinner “it’s not fair that my straight sister can get married, and I can’t!”
He was right. I often wondered if he would be alone in later life not knowing the joys and, yes, pitfalls of married life. And I felt a loss not only for him, but sad I would not be at a wedding for my son as I would my daughter.
Ever so slowly, Obama evolved as his Vice-President Biden preempted him during a television interview and said that the White House was in favor of same-sex marriage. LGBT activists fought to bring DOMA to its knees as they and others questioned that marriage can only be defined as between a man and a woman.
Progress snowballed when a lesbian widow, Edith Windsor, who married in 2007 in Canada (later recognized in New York State) Thea Spyer, a psychologist who died in 2009. Windsor, in her 80’S, inherited Spyer’s estate. Yet, the IRS denied Windsor the unlimited spousal exemption from federal estate taxes available to married heterosexuals because DOMA barred same-sex couples from federal recognition as “spouses,” thus keeping them from the federal benefits accorded to heterosexuals.
Windsor, who had been with Spyer for over forty years sued, claiming that the federal law only recognized heterosexual marriages and unconstitutionally singled out same-sex marriage partners for “differential treatment.”
In the lawsuit, United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, in a 5-4 ruling in 2013: “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” With this invalidation of DOMA, the Court was granting, for the first time, not only recognition of same-sex partners, but also the many benefits. Windsor became a hero.
However, the Supreme Court stopped short of ruling that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right. This meant that in thirty-seven states that still had laws banning same-sex marriages, same-sex partners would not receive the benefits that Windsor battled for. Not deterred, she pressed further. Two years later, in a more expansive ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, as well as three other cases, the Supreme Court held that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry anywhere (not just the thirteen states and the District of Columbia) in the nation and with all the benefits that heterosexuals receive.
On June 26, 2015, my son was given the same right to marry whomever he chose, same as my daughter. Today, there is a service at Temple Emmanuel in Manhattan for this glamorous smart ex-IBM programmer. It’s probably standing-room only. Civil rights organizations for LGBT people such as GLSEN, Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG will all be represented. To the millions of straight parents she gave hope to, we will be there, too. Thanks, Edie.
(This post originally appeared on this blog on 9/15/2017)
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.