It was reported this week that House Speaker John Boehner is preparing to petition the Supreme Court to grant cirtiorari to Massachusetts V US, one of four Federal Court decisions that ruled unconstitutional the provision of DOMA that limits marriage to one man and one woman. If the Supremes grant the House petition, their decision will likely be announced just weeks before the elections this November. It could be quite a Marry Christmas, if you’ll excuse the pun.
I was a little disappointed at Speaker Boehner’s choice of Massachusetts V US as the test case. I was hoping the lawsuit that overturns DOMA once and for all, would be Edith Windsor V US. I don’t know if it will make the best law. But it sure would make the best history.
There are two kinds of people in the world, those who dance and those who sit. Although she ended her life a quadriplegic, the very epitome of sitters, Thea Spyer was at heart, always a dancer.
The night Edith “Edie” Windsor met Thea Spyer, they danced until Edie had a hole in her stockings. They danced until their friends were standing at the door pointing at their watches. They danced one last lingering dance, with their coats on. Edie remembers Thea as “smarter than hell, beautiful and sexy.” Thea said of meeting Edie, “I felt like I’d finally landed”.
The women were together for the next forty-four years.
Though they were not allowed to say the words “in sickness and in health” in a legal ceremony, Edie was certainly faithful to that vow. In 1977 Thea was diagnosed with MS, and for the next 30 years, Edie was Thea’s caregiver as well as her soul mate. MS is a degenerative disease, so as she weakened Thea changed her moves, but she never stopped dancing. When she was confined to a wheelchair, she danced in her chair.
A sign on their refrigerator reminded the couple everyday: “Don’t postpone joy”. But all their lives, Thea and Edie were forced to postpone the joy of being married. They were officially engaged in 1967, and then they waited. While they waited, they worked for the same-sex marriage cause – and I use that term purposely; Thea and Edie were same-sex marriage advocates long before the term “marriage equality” came into its own.
But in 2007, four years before their home state of New York would legalize same-sex marriages, the women simply could not wait anymore. Thea had been given a few months to live. They could no longer afford to “postpone joy”. Toronto seemed their best option. Thea asked Edie if she still wanted to get married, and Edie said, “Yes!”
By 2007, MS had taken its toll. Thea was a quadriplegic, no longer able to move on her own. I wish I had the words to convey what a hardship that trip to Toronto must have been. I am a paraplegic, but I’m able to use my arms which are pretty damn strong, and still I have been known to buy a half-dozen tiny bottles of milk at the McDonald’s drive through, so I don’t have to drag my chair (and myself ) in and out of the car in front of all the gawkers in the Kroger parking lot. Thea and Edie’s trip to Toronto was not the Disney version of a dream that finally came true. It was without a doubt an ordeal. But it was not something they endured. It was something they achieved. If you are not sure of the difference, it lies in their love for one another.
Thea passed away in 2009, two years before New York adopted marriage equality. A memorial was held at The Center, a New York LGBT community center where she and Edie had been members and supporters since it’s founding. On The Center’s website, in memory of Thea, her friends wrote: “Thea was well-known throughout the community for re-inventing her dance step over the years – and for inspiring us all”.
Thea left her beloved wife Edie her estate. Had either Edie or Thea been man, or had DOMA not been the law of the land, Edie would not have owed the $363,000 tax bill the IRS sent her way. This didn’t seem fair to Edie. It seemed more like a last act of punishment from a government that, for most of her adult life, had prevented, rather than protected, her “pursuit of happiness”
So Edie took her case to court, the Edith Windsor V US I spoke of earlier. You may even recall it was one of the two cases President Obama and Attorney General Holder cited when they announced the Justice Department would no longer defend DOMA. Instead, Edie faced John Boehner’s hand picked hired guns. On June 6th, US Federal Court Judge Barbara Jones granted a summary judgment in favor of Edie. Like the Massachusetts case, Judge Jones struck down the section of DOMA that says a married couple must be one man and one woman.
This week Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he and City Council President Christine Quinn will file a joint amicus brief in support of Edie Windsor for the expected appeal, throwing the weight of the state of New York behind marriage equality. It seems politicians are choosing up sides for the looming showdown. I’ll cheer the demise of DOMA no matter how it ends, but it would make such great history if it were 83-year-old Edie Windsor, who worked for the right to marry her beloved Thea for four decades, who is the one to slay the DOMA dragon and change America forever.
I am convinced the day is coming soon when DOMA is no more. When that moment arrives, we will all high-five and toast a new life for thousands of same-sex couples. But no matter which case the Supreme Court hears, please take a moment to think of Edie and Thea. Then dance like nobody’s watching.
Author’s Note: I was hoping to find an “I’m from Driftwood” video by Edie and Thea I could post here, but one was never made. I hope that oversight is corrected soon; Edie is still with us, and LGBT history should remember her and her wife Thea. But I did discover a short documentary, Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement, with scenes from their wedding day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lL83Yl4-9Vc I hope you’ll watch.