In Memoriam: Edith Windsor, CLA ’50
by Judith Levine
Edith Windsor, whose activism and personal legal fight led to the dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed away on Sept. 12, 2017.
Ms. Windsor, who graduated from the College of Liberal Arts in 1950, married her first wife, Dr. Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007 and their marriage was later recognized by the state of New York, where they lived. When Dr. Spyer died in 2009, Ms. Windsor was forced to pay inheritance taxes that heterosexual spouses did not have to pay because the federal government, under DOMA’s mandates, did not recognize their marriage. Ms. Windsor sued, arguing that the law constituted “differential treatment” for same-sex spouses. She brought her case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court decided that DOMA was unconstitutional, paving the way to marriage equality.
I can still hear the warm tone of her voice and see the twinkle in her eye as she regaled us with these stories of her life.
One of my most memorable experiences during my time here at Temple was when the college of Liberal Arts brought Ms. Windsor to campus in 2014. I attended a screening of the film Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement, followed by a Q&A session with Ms. Windsor. Ms. Windsor was a remarkably charismatic person who captivated the audience with her description of her over 40-year relationship with Dr. Spyer. It began with a romantic courtship, moved through years of mutual support and growing involvement in the LGBTQ-rights movement, and ended in utter devotion as Ms. Windsor served as the primary caregiver for Dr. Spyer, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. Ms. Windsor spoke of the dignity she felt marriage imparts in our society and the great meaning it had to her to have her relationship recognized as a legal marriage.
In addition to her fortitude in pursuing her legal case, Ms. Windsor impressed us with the story of her career. After Temple, she went on to earn a master’s degree from New York University in applied mathematics and, in 1958, became a computer programmer at IBM. She retired in 1975 and, finally freed from the risk of discrimination that the exposure of her sexuality at work could bring, she pursued her second career as an activist. I can still hear the warm tone of her voice and see the twinkle in her eye as she regaled us with these stories of her life.
Ms. Windsor is survived by her second wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, whom she married in 2016.
We are honored by Edie Windsor's association with Temple and salute her courage and conviction.
Judith Levine is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and director of Temple’s Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies program. Levine authored the 2013 book, Ain't No Trust: How Bosses, Boyfriends, and Bureaucrats Fail Low-Income Mothers and Why It Matters.