Gay rights pioneer Edith Windsor, whose lawsuit against the federal government helped pave the way for same-sex marriage nationwide, has died at 88. Windsor is survived by her wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, whom she married last year.
“I lost my beloved spouse, Edie, and the world lost a tiny but tough as nails fighter for freedom, justice and equality," Kasen-Windsor said in a statement. "Edie was the light of my life. She will always be the light for the LGBTQ community which she loved so much and which loved her right back.”
Windsor was thrust into the national spotlight after suing the federal government upon receiving a $363,000 estate-tax bill after the death of her first wife, Thea Spyer, in 2009. Her case, United States v. Windsor, went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor in 2013; that decision laid the groundwork for the court's ruling two years later overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and establishing a constitutional right to gay marriage.
"Representing Edie Windsor was and will always be the greatest honor of my life. She will go down in the history books as a true American hero," Roberta Kaplan, Windsor's lawyer in United States vs. Windsor, said in a statement. "I also know that her memory will be a blessing not only to every LGBT person on this planet, but to all who believe in the concept of b’tzelem elohim, or equal dignity for all.”
Former President Barack Obama was among the many people who reflected on Windsor's legacy following her passing.
"America’s long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what’s right," Obama said in a statement. "Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America," Obama said in a statement."
Windsor's tireless advocacy affected the lives of many, especially same-sex couples in the U.S. who aspire to marry the one they love.
"I learned about her passing while a signed copy of her decision hangs above my desk," Jonathan Lovitz, senior vice president at the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, who is getting married next month, told NBC News. "My fiancé, Steve, and I owe her and those who fought in the courts with her for the very fact that we can be married this year."
"We hope to always make her proud and keep fighting in her honor," Lovitz said.