The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled Thursday that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage solely as being between a man and a woman, does not have the legal grounds to stand, siding with a lesbian widow who was charged a massive estate tax when her spouse died. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.
Edie Windsor wears a broach as a symbol of her marriage to the late Thea Spyer.
"Marriage is a word that has a magic," she said. "People say yes. They are committed. They love each other."
In Windsor's case, that commitment was between two women. That marriage was validated by a federal appeals court on Thursday.
In a 43-page decision, the court sided with Windsor, saying part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, approved during the Clinton administration, was unconstitutional.
Last year, the Obama administration announced it would no longer fight cases against the act, also known as DOMA. It offered Windsor an opportunity.
"I owe it to everybody now to just keep fighting until we win," she said.
In Windsor's case, the federal government didn't recognize her marriage, so they charged her an estate tax when her spouse died in 2009. It was a bill for $363,000.
"In this case in particular, the facts of Edie's life and the facts of her relationship and her marriage to her late spouse Thea Spyer speak volumes," said Roberta Kaplan, an attorney for Windsor.
Windsor and Spyer lived together in Greenwich Village for more than four decades. They were actually engaged in 1967 and then officially tied the knot in 2007.
"People said 'If you lived together for 40 years and loved each other, then why get married at this stage?'" Windsor said. "And I really didn't know how different it would be. But the next morning, the world was different."
For one thing, Windsor's attorneys say married couples are entitled to federal benefits. Under DOMA, same-sex couples are not.
"Your eligibility for social security survivor benefits depends on whether you are married or not," said James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union.
After Thursday's victory, they want to see these benefits extended to all same-sex couples in the country. They hope to head to Washington, where Windsor's case could be heard by the Supreme Court.