Edie Windsor at her Greenwich Village home earlier this fall. | DONNA ACETO
Edie Windsor, whose 2013 victory over the Defense of Marriage Act at the US Supreme Court set in motion a rush of federal court rulings that within two years led to marriage equality nationwide, is now ardently supporting the reelection of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Following this month’s victory by Donald Trump, Windsor was deeply affected by a November 20 meeting she attended at the LGBT Community Center called by out gay City Councilmember Corey Johnson to strategize about progressive responses to the unexpected political upheaval.
“It was filled with people very concerned,” she said. “People who cried. It’s terribly serious in some people’s lives.”
What would happen to the gay community?, speakers at the meeting asked. To immigrants worried about deportations? To Muslims fearful of hostile attacks under the climate of bigotry unleashed by the president-elect’s campaign.
The mood in the room, Windsor found, was one of dejection and worry.
Then the mayor started to speak, and the mood shifted.
“He was offering sanctuary,” Windsor recalled. “New York is a very special city.”
De Blasio promised that the police would protect people from hate crimes and city official wouldn’t help deport immigrants.
“We will not allow registries,” Windsor quoted the mayor saying. “We will not allow deportations.”
De Blasio “has a great deal to offer people” during this crisis, Windsor asserted, noting he will join with other cities in opposition to the new administration. A united New York can put pressure on the US Senate, which she argued “has incredible power. It can stop who is chosen for the Supreme Court.” The Democratic minority in the Senate, whose leverage comes through the use of filibuster rules that require the support of 60 members to move forward on most questions, is led by New York’s Chuck Schumer.
In Windsor’s telling, the effect of the mayor’s talk at the Community Center was electrifying.
“I never saw so many people agree to volunteer,” she said. “The auditorium was packed with people.”
Windsor said she left the meeting confident that de Blasio would mobilize public opinion to make New Yorkers’ views matter over the next four years.
“I think we will have much more activity in the city,” she said, efforts that could form the basis for coordinated activism among many other big cities.
“I watched him turn this crowd into 100 percent volunteers,” Windsor said, adding that a downcast audience overwhelmed by Trump’s victory was turned around and “volunteered to defend the Constitution.”
Windsor, who is 87 and recently married Judith Kasen, continues her lifetime of activism. It was the 2009 death of her first wife, Thea Spyer, whom she had married in Toronto in 2007, that led to her DOMA lawsuit. Though she and Spyer lived together 40 years, the final two as legal spouses recognized by New York (though the state did not yet allow such marriages here), under DOMA the IRS treated Windsor as a single woman, a decision that made her liable for $363,053 in taxes that a widow in a straight marriage would not have to pay.
Though the Obama administration refused to defend the law in court, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives was happy to do so. By a five to four vote in June 2013, the Supreme Court overturned DOMA. The logic in that ruling was quickly and almost universally adapted by federal courts over the following 18 months to undercut all state bans on same-sex marriage – a tsunami that by June 2015 resulted in the high court revisiting the marriage issue and delivering the ultimate victory.
Windsor will be the featured guest at a November 30 de Blasio fundraiser hosted by two attorneys active in the LGBT community, Yetta Kurland and Erica Kagan. The event takes place at 6:30 p.m. in the offices of the Kurland Law Group on the 11th floor of 160 Broadway, East Building, between Liberty Street and Maiden Lane.