What does an 81-year-old lesbian widow have to do with President Obama? Her lawsuit to try to recover $353,053 that the federal government took from her in estate taxes when her spouse died was cited as one of the reasons the Obama Administration announced on February 23 that it will not continue defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) from charges of unconstitutionality.
Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer first met in 1963. Their love story is breathtakingly portrayed in the video “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement,” (available at http://www.breakingglasspictures.com/index.php?option=com_jmovies&Itemid=2&task=detail&id=73). The film follows them for several years near the end of Thea’s life, and includes footage of their Canadian wedding in 2007, when they were 77 and 75.
Thea died two years later, leaving behind a substantial estate that the two had amassed during their years as a clinical psychologist (Thea) and a manager at IBM (Edie). Because DOMA forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and therefore granting Edie the usual spousal exemption when property is inherited from a spouse, Edie was faced with the large bill. She paid it, giving her the right to ask for a refund and sue when the refund was denied, which she did in November. Her case is currently in federal court in New York; the Obama Administration would typically be expected to defend a law that was being challenged as unconstitutional, and its decision not to in this case made national news.
For more information on the suit and the Obama Administration’s decision, see http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-28/a-363-000-tax-bill-to-widow-led-to-obama-shift-in-defense-of-marriage-act.html