Woman Says Same-Sex Marriage Bias Cost Her Over $500,000 – NYTimes.com

Woman Says Same-Sex Marriage Bias Cost Her Over 0,000 - NYTimes.com

In her apartment just north of Washington Square Park, Edith Windsor ran down a few pieces of simple arithmetic on Wednesday afternoon to explain why she had gone to the trouble of suing the government in what surely are the late seasons of her life.

Ms. Windsor, 83, is a widow, but by act of Congress, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton at the height of the 1996 campaign, she has paid more than $500,000 in inheritance taxes because her spouse, Thea Spyer, was a woman. “If Thea was a Theo, I wouldn’t have had to pay,” Ms. Windsor said. “One letter.”

This week, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled in her case that the law, the Defense of Marriage Act, was unconstitutional. Across the country, legal conveyor belts are carrying other cases that challenge the law toward the Supreme Court. Few of them can provide an exact dollar amount on the cost of the unequal treatment of same-sex marriages, but Ms. Windsor can.

The estate tax bill from the federal government was $363,053. New York State took an additional $200,000.

“I not only kept records of the checks we wrote, but I kept copies of our check registers,” said Ms. Windsor, a pioneer in computer programming.

Here, though, are prime numbers: “We were engaged for 40 years, and officially married for two,” Ms. Windsor said.

Ms. Windsor, who graduated from Temple University in 1950 and then earned a master’s degree in mathematics from New York University, was working for I.B.M. when she met Ms. Spyer, a clinical psychologist, on a Friday night in 1963 at the Portofino restaurant in Greenwich Village. They danced together the whole night.

“By the end of the evening, I had danced a hole through the bottom of one of my stockings,” Ms. Windsor said. They became engaged in 1967, and held the wedding in 2007, once Canada recognized same-sex marriages.

Of course, they had long since married, even if official witnesses were not present to document it. Marriage is not something that is done to people by a priest, rabbi, minister or admiral aboard a ship at sea. Ms. Windsor and Ms. Spyer lived together and owned together and planned all their days together.

“In 1968, we bought a house in the country for $35,000, including the furniture, the dishes and everything in it,” Ms. Windsor said. That house in Southampton, bought half her lifetime ago, is now valued at $550,000.

“And this thing, this apartment,” she said, waving around the living room, “cost under $300,000 when we bought it.” That was in 1975, which for New York real estate purposes, might as well have been during the administration of Peter Minuit and the $24 purchase of a lightly used island.

Today, the value of the apartment at Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street? “I lucked out,” she said. “It was evaluated at only $1,300,000. That’s because it is ‘unimproved.’ ”

Lucked out in the sense that when Ms. Windsor inherited Ms. Spyer’s share of the apartment, she would have had to pay even more in estate tax if it had been given a higher value.

At age 45, Ms. Spyer learned she had multiple sclerosis. Her physical powers drained; she shifted her psychology practice to their home and traveled to her wedding with a motorized wheelchair that had to be reassembled at each end of the journey.

Ms. Windsor, who had the rank of senior programmer at I.B.M., among its highest technical titles, took early retirement to care for her in the mid-1970s.

Getting Ms. Spyer ready for bed at night took about an hour, and leaving home in the morning about three hours. They built a platform in the swimming pool at the country house for Ms. Spyer and were there from the first warm breath of spring until Labor Day.

Still dancing, but to the tunes played by time.

One morning in February 2009, with patients waiting to see Ms. Spyer at the apartment, she died. Ms. Windsor had a heart attack a month later, recovered and wrote the checks to pay tax on the estate of her spouse.

The Justice Department under President Obama has refused to defend the law, but the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is paying for lawyers to argue that it should be upheld.

For a long time, as Ms. Spyer’s health was in decline, her stepmother was also failing. As these things often do, it fell to Ms. Windsor to look after the care of her stepmother-in-law. The three women did not share a drop of blood between them, but formed a dome that could not be mistaken for anything but family life. Whatever the courts decide, the historical truth cannot be rewritten.

Woman Says Same-Sex Marriage Bias Cost Her Over $500,000 – NYTimes.com.

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