Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in a major 2013 Supreme Court case that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and allowed same-sex married couples the same federal rights and benefits afforded everyone else, died Tuesday at age 88 in Manhattan.
Windsor was legally married in Canada in 2007 to psychologist Thea Spyer, a woman she had been living with for 40 years, according to The New York Times. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor inherited her estate. However, she had to pay federal estate taxes of over $350,000 because the Internal Revenue Service denied her the unlimited spousal exemption available to heterosexual married couples.
The case, United States v. Windsor, required the high court to decide if the U.S. Constitution prohibits differential treatment of same-sex married couples by the federal government. The Supreme Court found that it does, specifically invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as only between a man and a women and citing the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
Because at the time Windsor was decided, same-sex marriage was legal in only 13 states and the District of Columbia, the ruling did not apply to the 37 states that banned such unions.
The constitutional right to same-sex marriage did not come until June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex.