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Jim Obergefell: Edie Windsor Made the World Better


The plaintiff who helped bring marriage equality to the U.S. reflects on the woman who brought down DOMA.

I first met Edie Windsor in the American Civil Liberties Union offices in New York in mid-2015. We were introduced to each other in the middle of an event space filled with people, and as we talked, the people, the room, everything around us began to fade away until it was just Edie and me, completely present and in the moment.

Edie had that way about her. No matter what the setting, when you were with Edie, Edie was with you. Edie made you the focus of her entire world in that moment. Her eyes would twinkle, her mouth would curl up into a smile, and you'd forget that anything else existed. With Edie, you mattered.

She and I hugged, we talked about our late spouses, and we began to cry. We could relate all too well to what the other had experienced, from the death of a spouse from an unforgiving disease to the challenges of a legal fight with the government over our marriage. Edie and I shared a personal connection because of our shared experiences, but I quickly learned that wasn't necessary. Edie had a way of relating to everyone she met that made them feel as though they knew her and she knew them.

I'll never forget how she sat with a friend of mine at a party, devoting time to him as if he were an old friend with whom she shared many memories. The party continued around them, but Edie and my friend were content in their personal world for some time. That was Edie, quick to connect with others and generous with her time.

Edie wasn't generous just with individuals. Organizations like Lesbians Who Tech, the LGBTQ Community Center of New York, and more benefited from her generosity, boundless energy, and dedication to the causes she believed in. When Edie wanted to make a difference, to have an impact, she did. She was a force that would not be swayed, and from launching a successful career in an industry where few women worked to bringing down the Defense of Marriage Act with her lawsuit against the United States, Edie proved again and again that no challenge was insurmountable.

We're fortunate to have had Edie on the side of equality. Her unshakable sense of fairness, along with her love for Thea, moved our nation further along on our path to equality and set the stage for nationwide marriage equality just two years later. Edie and I have become intrinsically linked in that fight for marriage equality, and although my name is attached to the marriage equality ruling, it would not have been possible without Edie and the courage and strength of conviction she showed in her fight.

One of my last memories with Edie is from Capital Pride in Washington, D.C., this year. We were both grand marshals in the parade, and I'll forever savor the image I have of Edie, sitting on the back of a pink Thunderbird convertible, basking in the love of thousands of people lining the parade route. This tiny woman with the feisty personality wasn't only my hero, she was a hero to millions of people across our nation, and I'm glad that my last memories of her are happy ones of her getting the attention she rightly deserved.

Like many others across our nation, especially her dear wife Judith, I'm experiencing a deep sense of loss at Edie's passing. I'll never see that twinkle in her eyes or hear her soft chuckle again, but every day that I wake up, it will be in a world that she made better for all of us. I can think of no better legacy for my hero who became my friend. I love you, Edie. Thank you for everything.

JIM OBERGEFELL was the lead plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, the lawsuit which brought national marriage equality to the United States.

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Jim Obergefell