Marriage is too significant an event for it to ever come too late in life. Today, 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, is On Our Radar.
The Defense of Marriage Act may be gone by the end of next year.
As The New Civil Rights Movement reported this week, House Speaker John Boehner is preparing to petition the Supreme Court to grant cirtiorari to Massachusetts V HHS, one of four Federal Court decisions that ruled unconstitutional the provision of DOMA that limits marriage to one man and one woman. If the Justices grant the House petition, their decision regarding which case they will hear will likely be announced just weeks before the election this November. I was a little disappointed at Speaker Boehner’s preference of Massachusetts vHHS as the test case. I was hoping the lawsuit that overturns DOMA once and for all would be Edith Windsor v US. I don’t know if it will make the best law, but it sure would make great history.
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 DOMA lawsuit, 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 court, the Edith Windsor v US case that I am still hoping the Supreme Court will choose to hear. 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. Like the Massachusetts case, Judge Jones struck down the section of DOMA that says a married couple must be one man and one woman.
This week Mayor Bloomberg announced he and City Council President Christine Quinn will file a joint amicus brief in support of Edie Windsor for the expected BLAG appeal, throwing the weight of the state of New York behind marriage equality. It seems politicians are choosing up sides for the looming showdown. I’ll cheer the demise of DOMA no matter how it ends, but it would make such great history if it were 83-year-old Edie Windsor, who worked for the right to marry her beloved Thea for four decades, who is the one to slay the DOMA dragon and change America forever.
I am convinced the day is coming soon when DOMA will be overturned. When that moment arrives, we will all be high-fiving and toasting the hard-won freedom for thousands of same-sex couples. But no matter which case the Supreme Court chooses to hear, please take a moment to think of Edie and Thea. Then dance like nobody’s watching.
Today, Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer and the love that may change the country, are On Our Radar.
Author’s Note: I was hoping to find an “I’m from Driftwood” video by Edie and Thea I could post here, but one was never made. I hope that oversight is corrected soon; Edie is still with us, and LGBT history should remember her and her wife Thea. But I did discover this trailer for the documentary, Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement, with scenes from their wedding day. I hope you’ll watch.
The photo image was taken in Albany, New York the night of the winning marriage equality vote June 24, 2011. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
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. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter at @uncucumbered.
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