A June 26 Manhattan rally was as much a salute to Edie Windsor as it was a celebration of the two victories the US Supreme Court handed the gay and lesbian community that day.
“The federal government picked the wrong New Yorker to screw with,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at the rally, held outside the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots that marked the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. “If you look at every great victory for civil rights, they all start with that moment when an everyday American says no.”
Windsor, 84, was the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging that part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Earlier in the day, the nation’s highest court struck down that section of DOMA in a 5-4 ruling.
Windsor, who was the first of roughly 20 speakers at the 90-minute rally, received loud and sustained cheering from the crowd of at least several hundred when she took the stage. She was praised by speaker after speaker and repeatedly jumped back on the stage to briefly address the gathering. Windsor also used the occasion to endorse Quinn, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor.
She sued the government after Thea Spyer, her partner of 44 years, died in 2009. Because the federal government did not recognize their two-year-old marriage, Windsor was presented with a $360,000 tax bill on Spyer’s estate, a bill that a married heterosexual would not have to pay. Roberta Kaplan, a partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, represented Windsor along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).
Referring to Windsor and Kaplan, Quinn said, “Let’s make no mistake, it’s two lesbians who brought DOMA down.”
Windsor told the crowd that she was “so overwhelmed with a sense of injustice and unfairness that I decided to get my money back… Because of today’s Supreme Court ruling, the federal government can no longer discriminate against gay and lesbian Americans.”
Sharon Kleinbaum, the rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the gay synagogue, further expanded on that theme when she spoke moments later.
“Right now, I have to say, as a rabbi, I am kvelling,” Kleinbaum said. “Not only were these two New York lesbians, these were two New York Jewish lesbians.”
Also on June 26, the court held in a different 5-4 ruling that the proponents of Proposition 8, a 2008 California ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in that state, did not have standing to defend the initiative in federal court. That ruling effectively left in place a 2010 decision from a lower court striking down the measure. Advocates predicted that gay and lesbian couples would soon be marrying in California. While the Prop 8 decision was mentioned at the West Village rally, the focus was on Windsor and DOMA.
Some speakers discussed the court’s June 25 decision that eliminated an important section of the federal Voting Rights Act.
“In life and in politics, there are good days and there are bad days,” said Congressman Jerry Nadler, who represents Manhattan’s West Side. “Yesterday was depressing, today is elating.”
Donna Lieberman, the NYCLU’s executive director, took up that charge as well.
“Our bad marriage law is now officially dead,” Lieberman said. “Today’s a great day, but we have to remember we lost the Voting Rights Act yesterday and we have to fight to restore it.”
The rally was organized by some 70 organizations and many had large visible contingents. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay lobby, had volunteers distributing HRC flags and posters that the crowd waved when they cheered, creating a sea of equal signs.
GLAAD, the anti-defamation group, had volunteers wearing glaad.org T-shirts and red, white, and blue hats as they circulated with clipboards seeking new volunteers.
Anthony Weiner, who is also a candidate for the Democratic nod for mayor, had campaign volunteers circulating with large Weiner for Mayor signs prior to the rally’s start.
The rally closed with the Stonewall Chorale singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”