Who Killed the Defense of Marriage Act?

This video is a collaboration with Mr. Beat
from… Mr. Beat. You should check out his video on Windsor
v. United States after you watch this one. Edith Windsor, or Edie as she used to go by,
is one of the critical characters in America’s long struggle to legalise gay marriage. Her story is one of love, loss, and an epic
battle at the supreme court. Let’s Meet Edie. I’m Tristan Johnson, and this is Step Back
History. Edith’s story begins humbly enough. She was a child of the depression, raised
by Jewish Russian immigrants who ran a candy store. It was the thirties, so at school, she regularly
experienced antisemitic bullying. In 1950, she got herself a bachelor and a
Masters degree in mathematics in 1957. Right after that, she got herself a job working
for IBM. Kind of aside from the story, but she did
a lot of exciting work in IBM that has to do with operating systems. At college, she met a man named Saul Windsor. They had a relationship through college, with
one minor break when Edith wanted to pursue a relationship with another woman. Nervous about the social implications; however,
she turned back to Saul. They married shortly after graduation, but
it lasted less than a year. She even told him at that time that she really
was only interested in women. In the late 50s, this was quite a hard thing
to do! In 1963, after moving to New York, Edith met
Thea. She was a Dutch psychologist. They connected, and began to date about 2
years later. They had to keep everything secret, to the
point where they had to invent a fictional brother to explain phone calls she’d get at
the office. When the couple got engaged, they had to use
a pin with a diamond on it, rather than the traditional ring. While on vacation, the couple learned about
the Stonewall Riots that happened in New York. A brutal police crackdown on a gay nightclub
in 1969. From then on the couple joined in with the
nascent Gay Rights movement, and Edith’s life as an activist began. Things were pretty good for a while. The couple travelled, entertained, partied,
enjoyed all the domestic comforts of home, but tragedy lurked close by. In the late 70s, Thea was diagnosed with progressive
multiple sclerosis. It’s an incurable degenerative disease where
the protective coating on the nerve cells begin to break down. It progressively wears down the patient for
years. Over time, she would become more and more
paralysed. Edith took an early retirement severance package
when IBM moved out of her area, and she focused on two things, taking care of Thea and Gay
Rights. She joined in some prominent LGBT organisations. She was a warrior during some of the most
tumultuous times for the gay rights movement, such as the brutal AIDS crisis of the 80s
and 90s. Thea’s health continued to fail when she
had a heart attack in 2002. By 2007, doctors were giving her about a year
left to live. Gay marriage was still not legal in New York,
and so the couple spirited away to where a lot of American gay couples went for their
nuptials, Canada. Actually right here in Toronto. Major papers like the New York Times published
the bittersweet marriage. And, just a few years later Thea passed away. This is where Edith Windsor’s story enters
its most famous stage. She was the plaintiff in the Supreme Court
decision United States v. Windsor. A supreme court case so big and complicated
we’ll need a well-written brief. Luckily, Mr Beat over on his channel is releasing
a supreme court brief on this case, which you can see either on the card or the description. He released it the same day as me… funny,
it’s almost like we planned it or something. The decision forced the federal government
to recognize gay marriages from the few states that had legalised it. Even after the supreme court decision, Edith
fought to topple over the last dominos blocking gay marriage. In 2011, she lobbied several politicians to
pass the Respect for Marriage Act. It was a bill designed to kill the Defense
of Marriage act and was supported by prominent politicians like Bill Clinton (Who I might
add signed DOMA INTO law, but liberals are generous on social issues when and only when
it’s politically convenient). The supreme court decision in 2015 rendered
the bill useless, but it was the ongoing effort in Congress to legalise gay marriage for at
least a few years. In 2016, Edith remarried. A way to ring in the new legal marriage in
America. In her life, she earned a list of accolades,
awards and recognitions a mile long for her work in gay rights activism. In the history of gay rights, she’s a pretty
crucial figure. In his obituary of Edith, Robert Socarides
said she was their Rosa Parks. She did a lot of good, but I would be remiss
if I didn’t point out that some LGBTQ+ rights activists wouldn’t say she’s a perfect icon. I am not in the deification business after
all. She wasn’t very intersectional, and there
is disagreement in LGBTQ+ rights activism if the fight for marriage was the ideal use
of their resources. Some argue that employment and housing discrimination,
hate crimes, especially against trans women of colour, title IX protections, mass incarceration,
or homelessness are more pressing matters. If you think about her fight with the supreme
court, it is only one that someone of economic privilege could do. However, her battle with the supreme court,
though it might have been about estate taxes, also was a bold step forward for state recognition,
and so her contribution there shouldn’t be undermined. Almost unbefitting of such a hero, her lawyer
announced just a couple months ago in September of 2017 that Edith Windsor had passed away
at the age of 88. I was poking into this video idea just after
Rowan Ellis talked about her as a leading gay rights activist in this video, and I was
shocked to find out she had died only a couple days later. Rest in Power Edith. Thanks for watching folks! This video was made as a collaboration with
Mr Beat. I wanted to make a video about Edith Windsor’s
life after I heard of her passing, and he has a series where he discusses important
supreme court decisions. If you click on the card, wait till the end
screen, or click on the description you’ll see his video on Edith’s famous supreme
court case. If you liked this video, be sure to stick
around for a few more, and click the subscription button down below to keep in touch. The bell notification will make sure you know
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more Step Back.

Maurice Vega

14 Responses

  1. The past is rife with stories of those who loved or identified as what we would call part of the LGBTQ+ umbrella. This series covers these stories: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHapScbNoWE&list=PLnpoOo7lhNnFfp_ZwwhzqBHJBbZu42Alh

  2. Thanks Step Back History. As a northern European, it's sometimes difficult to makse sense of / and or relate to some North American points of view. Your videos on it's history help to understand it a little bit better 😉

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