Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer had a love so strong it changed the minds of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Attorney General Eric Holder, President Barack Obama, and could even be the reason DOMA is overturned.
There are two kinds of people in the world, those who dance and those who sit. Although she ended her life a quadriplegic, the very epitome of sitters, Thea Spyer was at heart, always a dancer. The night Edith “Edie” Windsor, the woman behind the challenge to DOMA being heard by the Supreme Court today, met Thea Spyer, they danced until Edie had a hole in her stocking. They danced until their friends were standing at the door pointing at their watches. They danced one last lingering dance with their coats on. Edie remembers Thea as “smarter than hell, beautiful and sexy.” Thea said of meeting Edie, “I felt like I’d finally landed”.
The women were together for the next forty-four years.
Though they were not allowed to say the words “in sickness and in health” in a legal ceremony, Edie was certainly faithful to that vow. In 1977 Thea was diagnosed with MS, and for the next 30 years, Edie was Thea’s caregiver as well as her soul mate. MS is a degenerative disease, so as she weakened Thea changed her moves, but she never stopped dancing. When she was confined to a wheelchair, she just learned to dance in the seated position.
A sign on their refrigerator reminded the couple everyday: “Don’t postpone joy”. But all their lives, Thea and Edie were forced to postpone the joy of being married. They were officially engaged in 1967, and then they waited. While they waited, they worked for the same-sex marriage cause – and I use that term purposely; Thea and Edie were same-sex marriage advocates long before the term “marriage equality” came into its own.
Bad news changed things for the couple in 2007, four years before their home state of New York would legalize same-sex marriage. The women simply couldn’t afford to wait anymore. Thea had been given a few months to live. They could no longer “postpone joy”. Toronto seemed their best option. Thea asked Edie if she still wanted to get married, and Edie said, “Yes!”
By 2007, MS had taken its toll. Thea was a quadriplegic, no longer able to move on her own. Thea and Edie’s bittersweet trip to Toronto was not the Hollywood version of a dream that finally came true. It was without a doubt an ordeal. They needed three aides to accompany them. But the trip was not something they endured. It was something they achieved.
Thea passed away in 2009, two years before New York would have allowed her to marry Edie. A memorial was held at The Center, a New York LGBT community gathering place where she and Edie had been members and supporters since it’s founding. On The Center’s website, in memory of Thea, her friends wrote: “Thea was well-known throughout the community for re-inventing her dance step over the years – and for inspiring us all”.
Thea left her beloved bride Edie her estate. Had either Edie or Thea been a man, or had DOMA not been the law of the land, Edie would not have owed the $363,000 inheritance tax bill the IRS sent her way. This didn’t seem fair to Edie. It seemed more like a last act of punishment from a government that for most of her adult life had prevented, rather than protected, her “pursuit of happiness”
So Edie took her case to Federal District Court, Edith Windsor v US. It is the appeal of that case that is being heard today by the Supreme Court. You may even recall it was one of two cases President Obama and Attorney General Holder cited when they announced the Justice Department would no longer defend DOMA. Instead, Edie faced John Boehner’s hand picked hired guns, known as the BLAG. On June 6th, US Federal Court Judge Barbara Jones granted a summary judgment in favor of Edie. Judge Jones struck down the section of DOMA that says a married couple must be one man and one woman. Now we wait for the Supreme Court to rule on the BLAG’s appeal of Judge Jones’ ruling..
Could Edie and Thea be the reason DOMA IS overturned? If that moment should arrive, we will all be high-fiving and toasting the hard-won freedom for thousands of same-sex couples. But, please, if DOMA falls, take a moment to think of Edie and Thea. Then dance like nobody’s watching.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
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