Photography by Danielle Levitt
The love story that changed America began when Edie Windsor met Thea Spyer in a New York City restaurant called Portofino. “We made love all afternoon and went dancing at night — and that was the beginning,” Windsor would recall decades later in the documentary Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement. For Spyer, the attraction was no less spontaneous: “We immediately just fit — our bodies fit,” she says in the film. That was in 1965, four years before Stonewall and nearly 50 years before their relationship became the foundation for the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages.
The couple married in Canada in 2007, but when Spyer died in 2009 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis, Windsor was ordered to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes that would have been avoided had their marriage been recognized by the United States. It took shrewd lawyers, clear-sighted judges, and one spry, platinum blond octogenarian to revoke that glaring iniquity.
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When the 5–4 Supreme Court decision ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional was announced on June 26 this year, Windsor was at the apartment of her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, to receive a congratulatory phone call from President Obama. And then she went to the Stonewall Inn to celebrate. This time, in contrast to 1969, the whole city was there to join the celebration — a testament to the distance we’ve traveled. “The next generation is so far advanced over us,” Windsor says. “I love that a lot of younger people now come out that would never have come out in the old days. Of course, they are born into a community already. They just have to discover it, whereas we were still building it.”
Build it they certainly did. It’s thanks to their efforts — and to the power of love stories — that we’re at this long-awaited point in our history today. As for Windsor, she finally received that check from the government repaying the money it owed her. But she’s been repaid in so many other ways impossible to count.
Photographed at the Plaza Hotel in New York City on September 12, 2013