Edie Windsor

Edie Windsor, 2014. Photo courtesy Cathy Renna.

She always seemed too full of life to ever be gone from it, with her signature scarf and boundless energy—but Edie Windsor, whose case led to the first federal recognition for same-sex couples, died yesterday at the age of 88.

She is survived by her second spouse, Judith Kasen-Windsor, whom she married last year. Her first spouse, Thea Spyer, died in 2009, two years after the couple married in Canada. It was Edie’s fight to claim the spousal exemption on federal estate taxes after Thea’s death that led her to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2013 said that the federal government must extend equal benefits to same- and different-sex couples.

Edie became something of a celebrity, a frequent speaker and presence at LGBTQ events (see photos) and almost Time magazine’s Person of the Year (losing out to Pope Francis). Supreme Court case aside, she was an activist, a founding member of New York City’s LGBT Center and long-time volunteer there, and active with SAGE, Hetrick-Martin Institute, and Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. More recently she was honored when Disney Junior show Doc McStuffins ran an episode featuring a two-mom couple named Edie and Thea.

Edie's attorney Roberta Kaplan; comedian Judy Gold; Edie Windsor

L-R: Edie’s attorney Roberta Kaplan; comedian Judy Gold, and Edie Windsor at a 92nd St. Y talk in 2014. Photo courtesy Cathy Renna.

Yesterday, Judith released a statement that read:

I lost my beloved spouse Edie, and the world lost a tiny but tough as nails fighter for freedom, justice and equality. Edie was the light of my life. She will always be the light for the LGBTQ community which she loved so much and which loved her right back.

A public memorial will be held Friday, September 15 at Riverside Memorial Chapel at 12:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, Edie Windsor had requested that any donations in her memory be made to the following organizations:

The LGBT Center of New York City
Callen-Lorde
Hetrick-Martin Institute
SAGE

Former President Barack Obama also released a statement, which read in part:

America’s long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what’s right.

Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America….

I had the privilege to speak with Edie a few days ago, and to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love…. And because people like Edie stood up, my administration stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the courts.  The day that the Supreme Court issued its 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor was a great day for Edie, and a great day for America – a victory for human decency, equality, freedom, and justice.  And I called Edie that day to congratulate her.

Two years later, to the day, we took another step forward on our journey as the Supreme Court recognized a Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality.  It was a victory for families, and for the principle that all of us should be treated equally, regardless of who we are or who we love.

I thought about Edie that day.  I thought about all the millions of quiet heroes across the decades whose countless small acts of courage slowly made an entire country realize that love is love – and who, in the process, made us all more free.  They deserve our gratitude.  And so does Edie.

Michelle and I offer our condolences to her wife, Judith, and to all who loved and looked up to Edie Windsor.

The New York Times has a lengthy piece on her life. The 2009 documentary Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement, is streaming free on Here TV for a limited time. It’s also on Netflix. Below is a trailer.

Last night, hundreds gathered at the Stonewall Inn, the LGBTQ civil rights landmark in New York City, to honor her life and legacy. May we work to carry it onwards. My deepest condolences to Edie’s family and friends.