Web Video: Edith Windsor, who fought to overturn DOMA, dies at 88

Sep. 12, 2017 AT 6:42 p.m. EDT

Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the landmark 2013 Supreme Court case that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, died Tuesday at the age of 88. Ms. Windsor sued the federal government after being denied a tax refund when her fiancée of 40 years and wife of two years, Thea Spyer, died. “I felt distressed and anguished that in the eyes of my government, the woman I had loved and cared for and shared my life with was not my legal spouse but was considered to be a stranger with no relationship to me,” Ms. Windsor said after her victory. Two years later the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

MS. IFILL: Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the case that overturned the Federal Defense of Marriage Act put her victory this way.

EDITH WINDSOR [DOMA Plaintiff]: (From tape.) I lived with and loved Thea Spyer for more than four decades in love and joy, in sickness and in health, until death did us part. When Thea died in 2009 from a heart condition, two years after we were finally married, I was heartbroken. On a deeply personal level, I felt distressed and anguished that in the eyes of my government, the woman I had loved and cared for and shared my life with was not my legal spouse but was considered to be a stranger with no relationship to me.

MS. IFILL: Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the five to four majority, found that law enacted in 1996, quote: “Undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages, for it tells those couples and all the world that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition.”

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the minority, saw it differently. He wrote: “On the majority’s telling, this story is black and white. Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated.”

So what were the complications, starting with you, Pete?

PETE WILLIAMS: Well, Justice Scalia said – would say the complication is that not everybody who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act was motivated by animosity toward gay people, that it’s more complicated than that.

But two other points about this. First of all, the decision strikes down the part of the law that prevents the federal government from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages in the states where they are permitted. But it does also create instant complications. What happens if a couple gets married in one of those states and then moves to a state where marriage is not allowed? Do they still get federal benefits? The government is trying to work that out.

And, secondly, it’s complicated because there are parts of the ruling that can be used by both sides in this debate as it goes forward. For example, for gay rights groups, it’s the language. It says same-sex marriages have dignity, a word that the author of the opinion, Anthony Kennedy, uses 10 times. He says it’s a legitimate personal bond that deserves deep recognition. But the opponents will say, no, no, the key to the ruling is that the states get to decide what marriage is. So those are some of the complexities.

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