The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Wednesday. Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the case, and her attorneys are hopeful that the Court will view DOMA as an unconstitutional law.
More than 44 years ago, Windsor met the woman she would later marry. In the early years, she never wore a ring on her finger for fear of people asking questions about her spouse being a female. At that time, she was still in the closet.
When her spouse died four years ago, the federal government hit Windsor with an estate tax of more than $360,000. On a fixed income, an estate tax of that amount was a heavy burden for her. Despite a 40-year relationship and a legal marriage, the federal government treated them as strangers. Had Windsor been in a similarly situated heterosexual marriage, her tax burden would not have been as great.
Today, Windsor is an 83-year-old out lesbian who had the courage to sue the federal government and challenge DOMA for its apparent unfairness to same gender married couples.
Marriage is regulated by the states, not the federal government. Marriage, however, makes a difference in many federal contexts. More than 1100 federal laws currently consider marriage, including Social Security and survivor benefits, family medical leave, veterans benefits and taxes.
In a news conference following the Supreme Court hearing, Windsor spoke to the institution of marriage and its effect on her. “Many people asked me ‘why get married,’ I was 77 she was 75,” Windsor told the assembled media.
“For anybody who doesn’t understand why we want and why we need it, okay, [marriage] is magic.”
In spite of the challenges Windsor faced living as a married lesbian, she understands and embraces the sea of change in favor of same gender marriage.
“Today is a lifetime kind of event. I know that the spirit of my late spouse, Thea Spyer, is right here watching and listening and very proud and happy of where we’ve come to.”
Roberta Kaplan, the attorney who argued Windsor’s case before the Court, was hopeful but cautious in assessing the outcome of the case. “I’m not in the business of predicting what any particular justice will do, said Kaplan, but we are very hopeful that they will affirm the decisions of the courts below.”
Windsor said she thought the hearing went “beautifully.”
“Today’s oral arguments tell the story and tell the lesson of why it is we have a Constitution, stated Kaplan. To bind us together as citizens of one nation, all of whom are guaranteed the equal protection of the law. And there is no one individual who better personifies the concept of equal protection than my client, Edy Windsor.”