“When Thea and I met nearly 50 years ago, we never could have dreamed that the story of our life together would be before the Supreme Court…” – Edie Windsor
When we think of how we’ll be when we’re in our 80’s – if we’re even lucky enough to grow to be that old – our thoughts are usually about retirement, relaxing, spending time with our families and cherishing the limited moments we have left on Earth. That’s not the path 84-year-old Edie Windsor had in mind. Instead of spending her time relaxing, vacationing or spending personal time with her family, Edie was busy challenging the United States government on the Defense of Marriage Act. In 2007, Edie Windsor legally married her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer. Two years later, Spyer died and Windsor was stuck with an estate tax bill of over $363,000. Unlike a federally recognized marriage, Edie was seen merely as having a personal relationship with Thea and not having a legally recognized relationship with her. A person that is legally married is not charged an estate tax when their partner dies and they inherit their partner’s estate.
Edie knew in her heart that it was wrong for the United States of America to not recognize her marriage to Thea. She had to challenge the United States government on their discriminatory law. At first, the ACLU didn’t want to represent her. They didn’t think she had a strong enough case to get the sweeping ruling that we got yesterday. Thankfully they put their trust in their team and in Edie. As it’s already known, the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional yesterday. It was ruled unconstitutional because of Edie and her powerful story. She truly is an icon in the LGBT community and will be immortalized as the woman that fought for equality for all of us. Edie Windsor truly is a hero in my book.
There were four other prominent figures in the fight for LGBT equality that fought hard to get Proposition 8 overturned – Paul Katami, Jeff Zarrillo, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier. We can’t forget to herald these strong couples as influential members of the gay community as well. When they were denied marriage licenses after Proposition 8 was enforced, they sued the state of California. They took significant time and money out of their own lives to fight the state of California and eventually a private group of lawyers. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the defendants didn’t have standing to defend Proposition 8 in the case. Virtually, the defendants could not prove they were damaged as a result of the repeal of Proposition 8, therefore they had no standing to challenge the plaintiffs.
I was actually out of the country in Singapore when the oral arguments were heard before the Supreme Court in March. I spent some of my vacation reading the oral arguments at the airport as I headed back to the United States. While I was in Singapore, the LGBT community and our allies in the United States held a wear red for marriage equality day. Even though I was 10,000 miles away, I wanted to make sure I recognized that day with my fellow LGBT community. I wanted to make sure to take photographs of myself wearing a red shirt, so I ventured out to find the perfect places to take a photo. I found a sculpture in the Boat Quay of Singapore that symbolized unity in sports. I felt just the idea of unity was impactful, and I took a photo of myself standing in front of it.
Yesterday, I wanted to make sure I was surrounded by my fellow LGBT family and supporters as the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings came down. The Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh – a non-profit organization that helps to raise awareness to the LGBT community and hosts the Pride events every year put on a demonstration in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh yesterday. The day before I helped the Delta Foundation rally their supporters to turn out for the event. The turnout was great, the weather was great and the speakers were amazing. Yesterday was definitely a day I will never forget.
I didn’t want to go into great detail about the impact of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, I wanted to focus more on the five individuals that took significant sacrifices in their own lives to pave the way for all of us to experience equality. We can’t thank Edie Windsor, Paul Katami, Jeff Zarrillo, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier enough.
As we transition from a country where we were treated as second-rate citizens to a nation where some of us can legally marry, while others of us still can’t, we have to gear up for the next fight. The Humans Right Campaign has an ambitious goal of getting marriage equality to all 50 states in the United States. We must petition state governments to legalize marriage equality. We must contact our U.S. representatives and U.S. senators and let them know we will not enshrine discrimination into our Constitution. The same Constitution that guarantees equality. The same Constitution that gives us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Representative” Tim Huelskamp of Kansas is planning to introduce the Federal Marriage Amendment, an amendment to the United States Constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. While there is no chance of it’s passage, and it’s a waste of American tax dollars, we cannot sit around and let our government officials attempt to treat us less than anyone else. We must encourage Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
There is still a lot of work we must do in order to establish full equality for the gay community. Let’s celebrate this triumphant win we had yesterday and look forward to what we have in store for ourselves as we fight for what is rightfully ours and our straight counterparts. It’s time we get energized and remember that love is love.