The Jewish Women Who Inspired the Defeat of DOMA


By now you probably know all about Edie Windsor, the octogenarian whose lawsuit led to the defeat of DOMA. What you might not know is the life story of her late wife, Thea Spyer, in whose name Windsor fought for marriage equality.

As detailed in United States v. Windsor, an 8-year-old Spyer fled the Nazis’ rise in the Netherlands with her parents, finally settling in the U.S.

Years later, she was expelled from Sarah Lawrence for kissing another woman, but that didn’t stop her from earning her doctorate, practicing psychology, and meeting Windsor at an NYC cafe. They danced all night. Later, Spyer proposed with a diamond brooch so as not to attract attention, but when they legally married in Canada, in 2007, they announced it for the world to see.

The couple faced Spyer’s eventual MS diagnosis together, modifying their dancing as her paralysis worsened: whirling first on crutches, then a wheelchair. As Windsor told the crowd at Stonewall on Wednesday, in the eyes of the government, “The woman I had loved and cared for was not my legal spouse but a stranger with no relationship to me.” Thanks to years of tireless effort, Windsor and Spyer’s love is not just known by the public, but recognized by it, too.

Image: Still from Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement.

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