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Edie Windsor's Widow on the Imperiled State of Marriage Equality

Edie
Edie with wife Judith Kasen-Windsor

Thanks to Trump, losing our hard-won rights is a clear and present danger. 

When my treasured partner of almost 13 years graduates from medical school at the end of next year, we will -- hopefully, he hasn't committed just yet -- get married.

But will we be able to get married, even if he acquiesces? Will we be able to celebrate our love, just like anyone else? Or will we be forced into a civil union or a commitment ceremony, as progress gets rolled back? Will we have the legal right that was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015?

I remember, way back in 2002, when The New York Times decided to publish queer commitment ceremonies, and how thrilling that was to see and how excited I was to read about same-sex couples. The thought that you could almost -- almost -- tie the knot with someone was exhilarating.

At the time, Howell Raines, the executive editor of the Times, said, ''In making this change, we acknowledge the newsworthiness of a growing and visible trend in society toward public celebrations of commitment by gay and lesbian couples -- celebrations important to many of our readers, their families and their friends. We recognize that the society remains divided about the legal and religious definition of marriage, and our news columns will remain impartial in that debate, reporting fully on all points of view. The Styles pages will treat same-sex celebrations as a discrete phenomenon meriting coverage in their own right.''

Looking back at his words, it's very clear that they were carefully crafted by teams of publicists and legal experts, striking a professional, newsworthy balance between not explicitly endorsing same-sex marriage and not saying opposite-sex marriage was the only true way. And now Raines's words seem archaic and wrong, because the waffling is over. Same-sex marriage is real.

It reminded me of the debate about climate change, back during a time when reporters were, again, not necessarily required to balance a story but did so as part of their professional protocol. That had journalists not only presenting the scientific facts about climate change but also equalizing the story by including comments from climate skeptics, as if there were two ways to look at the issue.

There are no longer two ways to look at climate change, and no longer two ways to look at marriage equality. They are matters of fact, not opinion. They are truths and not falsehoods. There is nothing misrepresentative of a same-sex wedding. It is at once a show of love and resilience, love that occurs inherently, and resilience born out of a fierce fight for legalization. When two men or two women wed, it is a beauty to behold and an event that is deserved. There is no difference between a write-up of a opposite-sex couple and a same-sex couple in The New York Times now. There is no turning back the clock on these happy queer nuptials. Or is there?

Last week was dominated by vomit-inducing news stories about Donald Trump, from his despicable behavior at last week's debate to his COVID-19 diagnosis, his hospitalization, his pathetic joyride, his appalling release from Walter Reed Hospital, and his literally breathless return to the White House, where an outbreak began on the heels of the announcement of a backward-looking handmaid's nomination to the Supreme Court.

While all this news was flying about, and while Amy Coney Barrett's appointment elicited cries about her overt support for overturning Roe v. Wade, an action by this less-than-supreme court flew under the radar. The court will turn more aggressively conservative, and its narrow-minded and small-minded leaders, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, opened the court's term this week by calling for the overturning of its 2015 marriage equality decision.

This is the eerie and ominous part of what they wrote: "If the States had been allowed to resolve this question through legislation, they could have included accommodations for those who hold these religious beliefs. ... The Court, however, bypassed that democratic process. Worse still, though it briefly acknowledged that those with sincerely held religious objections to same-sex marriage are often 'decent and honorable,' ... the Court went on to suggest that those beliefs espoused a bigoted worldview."

I will tell you who is bigoted, and that is Justices Alito and Thomas, and their insipid ilk of Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Barrett. Why are we continually forced to defend ourselves, our love, our freedom, our families, our lives? Haven't we, like climate change, moved beyond a storyline that includes right and wrong, pro or con, real or not real? Why does the far right feel the need to drag us under the bus and back to the days of civil unions and commitment ceremonies? What are we being punished for? The yearning for the days when The New York Times wavers again about same-sex marriage?

Perhaps there is no one more associated with the fight for marriage than the late Edie Windsor. She was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor, which overturned section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that kept the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. It was an iconic moment for our community and a huge victory for marriage equality. The court would go on in 2015 to affirm the right of same-sex couples to marriage throughout the U.S.

I reached out to Windsor's wife, Judith Kasen-Windsor. I wanted to get a sense of whether Windsor saw this day coming, or if she was optimistic that the fight for marriage equality was over? "One of the best articles ever written about Edie was Ariel Levy's piece in The New Yorker, called 'The Perfect Wife,' and the it begins with a quote from Edie, 'Fuck the Supreme Court,'" Kasen-Windsor pointed out. "So that should give you a good idea about how Edie would feel about what's going on right now."

Kasen-Windsor said her wife was the eternal optimist. "She celebrated the day the verdict came down, and she went to Stonewall," Kasen-Windsor said. "She was just so full of hope. And when gay marriage was finally decided two years later, she felt like her fight had been won."

Even when Trump was elected in 2016, Windsor was looking on the bright side. "She kinda knew that Trump was going to win," recalled Kasen-Windsor. "After he won, she tried to calm me down and said that he would be OK, that we've been through worse, and there's no way that they'll overturn her verdict, gay marriage, or Roe v. Wade. She felt like they would take steps to chip away at each of them, but that those laws would stand. I don't think she thought it would get this bad."

Windsor told Kasen-Windsor that she wanted to a chance to speak to Trump and tell him that he had an opportunity to be a great president. "She really hoped that he might do some good, but for the first year or so, she started getting more worried and upset. I would call her during the day after something happened or he did something foolish, and I would say to her, 'Are you screaming at the TV?' And she'd say, 'Yes, when you come home I'll stop.'"

"I can't even imagine what she'd be like right now after hearing the news this week. I can see her pacing, screaming at the TV, but I do know one thing, she'd be right in there to start to fight, and that's what she would expect all of us to do right now. This is no time to take our rights for granted, and no time to remain silent. She would be speaking up as loud as she could."

Windsor would be offended at what Thomas and Alito wrote and how it made something special seem wrong. "I never met anyone like her, and I never will," Kasen-Windsor said emphatically. "Our wedding was one of the most beautiful days in both our lives. I treasure all the memories associated with that day and that time. How can something that was so extraordinarily meaningful, be made illegal? It's sinful."

If, but more likely when, I marry my partner, I know it will be the best thing that I'll ever do. It won't be sinful. It will be joyful. It will be magical, even if it's a simple ceremony. Maybe we'll even be written up in the Times. All of this is what I imagine and hope for. There are untold millions of us looking forward to the day we wed the ones we love. We cannot let the cruelty of bigots destroy our dreams. Like Windsor, we all must pay heed, not take our rights and the realness of our marriages for granted. We must be on guard and rise up and fight.

John Casey is The Advocate's editor at large.

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