Mike Segar / Reuters
Edith "Edie" Windsor reacts to cheers as she arrives for a news conference in New York on Wednesday following the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 ruling striking down as unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act.
NEW YORK -- The 84-year-old widow at the center of an historic gay-rights marriage case before the Supreme Court said she cried on Wednesday upon learning of her win, with the justices deeming unconstitutional a federal law that bars recognition of same-sex marriage.
Smiling and at some times emotional, Edie Windsor said: “I cried, I cried,” after learning of her landmark victory, hailed by one of her attorneys, James Esseks, as a “watershed” moment in the decades-long battle for gay rights.
“We won everything we asked and hoped for. Wow,” she told a room full of reporters at The Center, a LGBT rights community center in New York City.
DOMA plaintiff Edie Windsor reacts to the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday.
The victory means the federal government must recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples married in the 12 states that allow same-sex marriage, plus the District of Columbia, and give them the same benefits that they had been previously denied under the struck-down law, the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA).
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said it meant the end of what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had called "skim-milk marriage" during oral arguments in March.
“I thought we had every right to win. I thought our arguments were sound and everyone else's were insane,” Windsor quipped.
Windsor noted that her journey as a lesbian throughout the decades meant she had had to lie a lot of the time about her sexuality. Her other attorney, Roberta Kaplan, likened Windsor to Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks and Harvey Milk.
“It makes me feel incredibly proud and humble,” Windsor said.
Windsor launched her lawsuit after getting a bill for $363,000 in estate taxes after her wife, Thea Spyer, died in 2009 – two years following the couple's marriage in Canada. She noted that if her spouse had been named “Theo,” she wouldn't have received that bill.
She was heartbroken after Spyer’s death but also “overwhelmed with a sense of injustice and unfairness” and decided to sue to get her money back.
“Children born today will grow up in a world without DOMA. And those same children who happen to be gay will be free to love and get married – as Thea and I did – but with the same federal benefits, protections and dignity as everyone else,” Windsor said. “If I had to survive Thea, what a glorious way to do it and she would be so pleased."
Kaplan said Windsor would recoup that money plus interest, as would other couples who brought a case. For other couples, who are married now, the reimbursement will depend on each federal program and benefit. DOMA had blocked the access of same-sex married couples to more than 1,100 federal benefits.
As to the future, Windsor said she would be supportive of the ongoing efforts to bring same-sex marriage nationwide but would otherwise take a back seat.
"I don't have a ton of years left and I would like to relax a little bit," she said lightheartedly.
And when asked what she thought Thea, her partner of 44 years, would say on this big day, Windsor surmised: “You did it, honey.”
Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
Celebrations around the nation as the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and declined to rule on California's Prop 8, legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.
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