Remembering a Crusader for Equal Access to Federal Benefits
The woman President Obama called one of America’s “quiet heroes” passed away September 12th in New York City. Edith Windsor, 88, was a champion of LGBT rights, whose victory in the landmark United States v. Windsor Supreme Court case allowed married same-sex couples to collect the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples in states that had legalized gay marriage.
Edith Windsor’s 2013 victory inspired Kathy Murphy, a Texas widow who was denied Social Security survivor’s benefits after the death of her wife, Sara. With the help of the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, Murphy, a member of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, sued the Social Security Administration (SSA) in 2014 for the right to collect survivor’s benefits. Murphy’s case was later folded into the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that legalized same sex marriage and access to spousal benefits for same-sex couples nationwide in 2015.
Thanks to Edith Windsor, Kathy Murphy, and millions of supporters across the country, same-sex couples became eligible for the full range of Social Security spousal benefits, including retirement, survivor, death and disability protections. This led to the development of a National Committee sponsored community outreach and education initiative called Know Your Rights which helped thousands of LGBT couples and families understand their Social Security benefits.
Edith Windsor lived with her partner, Thea Spyer, for 40 years, finally getting married in Toronto in 2007. (Their home state of New York didn’t legalize same-sex marriage until 2011). Windsor was denied an estate tax exemption for married couples after Spyer died, and sued the federal government for a tax refund, leading to the landmark Windsor decision.
The diminutive Windsor, a retired computer programmer for IBM, never sought the spotlight but embraced her role as a well-known LGBT activist.
The National Committee celebrates Windsor’s life and her landmark achievements. She was that ‘ordinary person’ caught up in extraordinary circumstances who bravely stepped forward for the cause of equality, the “quiet hero” who gave voice to couples asking only the same benefits as everyone else.