NEW YORK, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Edith Windsor, the New York woman whose successful challenge to a federal law that had defined marriage in the eyes of the U.S. government as between one man and one woman helped pave the way for gay marriage nationwide, died on Tuesday at age 88.
Her death in New York was announced by her wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor, and lawyer Roberta Kaplan.
The case, United States v. Windsor, was at its core a tax dispute, stemming from her lawsuit against the government targeting a law called the Defense of Marriage Act, after her first wife, Thea Spyer, died in 2009.
Her 2013 victory would be credited with laying the groundwork for the landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling in another case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
“I lost my beloved spouse Edie, and the world lost a tiny but tough as nails fighter for freedom, justice and equality. Edie was the light of my life,” said Kasen-Windsor, who married Windsor last year.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called Windsor “one of this country’s great civil rights pioneers.”
“One simply cannot write the history of the gay rights movement without reserving immense credit and gratitude for Edie Windsor,” Romero said.
Windsor, a New York resident and former IBM consultant known as “Edie,” and Spyer, a psychologist, met in the 1960s in a New York restaurant and spent four decades engaged to be married before they finally tied the knot in Canada in 2007.
Under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex marriages were not federally recognized, depriving Windsor of an estate tax break afforded to heterosexual surviving spouses.
The Supreme Court’s Windsor decision applied to gay marriages only in the 13 states that permitted them at the time. In the ensuing months, however, the central reasoning of the case was cited time and again as judges in several states found gay marriage bans unlawful.
In 2015, the Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was protected by the Constitution.
“It’s an accident of history that put me here,” Windsor said after she won her case. “If Thea had been Theo,” everything would have been different, she added.
When she exited the Supreme Court in March 2013 after the justices heard arguments in her case, hundreds of supporters chanted “Edie! Edie!” as she laughed and blew kisses to the crowd. She received a congratulatory phone call from then-President Barack Obama.
No cause of death was given. (Reporting by Joseph Ax; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Matthew Lewis)