Obama Remembers Gay Rights Hero Edie Windsor: One Of Many ‘Quiet Heroes’

Pacific Press/Sipa USA

Former President Barack Obama praised the gay rights activist Edith Windsor shortly after the 88-year-old died Tuesday in New York, saying “few made as big a difference to America.”

Windsor, whose lawsuit against the government led the Supreme Court in 2013 to strike down a key part of the the Defense of Marriage Act, lived to see the court assert that same-sex couples nationwide had the right to marry in 2015.

I had the privilege to speak with Edie a few days ago, and to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love,” Obama said in a statement.

In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he added. “And because people like Edie stood up, my administration stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the courts.”

Read Obama’s full statement below:

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. 

Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America.

I had the privilege to speak with Edie a few days ago, and to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love.  She was engaged to her partner, Thea, for forty years.  After a wedding in Canada, they were married for less than two.  But federal law didn’t recognize a marriage like theirs as valid – which meant that they were denied certain federal rights and benefits that other married couples enjoyed.  And when Thea passed away, Edie spoke up – not for special treatment, but for equal treatment – so that other legally married same-sex couples could enjoy the same federal rights and benefits as anyone else.

In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.  And because people like Edie stood up, my administration stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the courts.  The day that the Supreme Court issued its 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor was a great day for Edie, and a great day for America – a victory for human decency, equality, freedom, and justice.  And I called Edie that day to congratulate her.

Two years later, to the day, we took another step forward on our journey as the Supreme Court recognized a Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality.  It was a victory for families, and for the principle that all of us should be treated equally, regardless of who we are or who we love.

I thought about Edie that day.  I thought about all the millions of quiet heroes across the decades whose countless small acts of courage slowly made an entire country realize that love is love – and who, in the process, made us all more free.  They deserve our gratitude.  And so does Edie. 

Michelle and I offer our condolences to her wife, Judith, and to all who loved and looked up to Edie Windsor.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
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