History-Changing Gay Relationship Began At A Restaurant Where Lesbians Met Discreetly

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Edith Windsor

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Edith Windsor is pictured here as a younger woman living in New York.

The epic relationship that made 84-year-old Edith Windsor a gay rights hero is one of the greatest love stories ever.

Windsor won a huge victory for gays after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which said the U.S. government didn't recognize her marriage to another woman.

The relationship that led to that ruling began nearly 50 years ago.

Windsor and the woman who became her wife, Thea Spyer, both struggled to come to terms with being gay when they were coming of age in the 1950s. As Windsor has said, "Nobody wanted to be queer."

When she was 34, Windsor finally asked a friend to take her someplace where she could meet women. Her friend brought her to a casual Italian restaurant in the West Village called Portofino, The New York Times reported.

Portofino wasn't an exclusively gay establishment, but gay ladies went there to discreetly meet other lesbians on Friday nights. Windsor and Spyer met there and then retreated to a friend's apartment, where they danced until Windsor wore a hole in her stocking.

The two women ended up being together for more than 40 years — the vast majority of which they spent engaged to be married. Windsor wore a pendant instead of an engagement ring because she feared being out where she worked at IBM (which is now, like many companies, gay-friendly).

They did not have the easiest life together.

Spyer, a psychologist, developed multiple sclerosis in 1977 and eventually became paralyzed. It's clear from a documentary about their relationship that they never stopped adoring each other or having a lot of sex. Windsor also used to sit in Spyer's wheelchair while she wheeled around to music, because they never wanted to stop dancing.

After decades of being engaged, Spyer and Windsor finally got married in Canada in 2007. Windsor dabbed at Spyer's eyes after they exchanged vows.

When Spyer died two years later, Windsor got the estate tax bill for what she'd inherited from her wife. She was enraged and, unlike many plaintiffs, sought out lawyers who would represent her fight to repeal DOMA.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court validated the legitimacy of her relationship. Her epic relationship with Spyer was no longer, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, a "skim milk marriage."



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