Lawmakers, celebrities pay tribute to Edith Windsor: 'Few made as big a difference to America'

PHOTO: President Barack Obama holds hands with Edie Windsor after she introduced him during the Democratic National Committee LGBT Gala at Gotham Hall on June 17, 2014 in New York.PlayMandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Edith Windsor, who helped end gay marriage ban, dies at 88

After the death Tuesday of Edith Windsor — whose landmark Supreme Court case struck down parts of a federal anti-gay-marriage law and paved the way toward legalizing same-sex nuptials nationwide — lawmakers, celebrities and other public figures were quick to honor her legacy and contribution to LGBT rights.

She was 88. She died in New York, her lawyer Roberta Kaplan said.

PHOTO: Edith Windsor, 83, is mobbed by journalists and supporters as she leaves the Supreme Court March 27, 2013 in Washington. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Edith Windsor, 83, is mobbed by journalists and supporters as she leaves the Supreme Court March 27, 2013 in Washington.

"America's long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what's right," former President Barack Obama said in a statement. "Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor — and few made as big a difference to America."

Obama said he spoke with Windsor a few days ago and told her "one more time what a difference she made to this country we love."

When Windsor was 81, she brought a lawsuit that led to a major moment for gay rights. The genesis of the lawsuit was the death in 2009 of her first wife, Thea Spyer. They were married in 2007 in Canada — where same-sex marriage was already legal — after spending more than four decades together.

Windsor said the federal Defense of Marriage Act's definition of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman prevented her from getting a spousal exemption from inheritance taxes on Spyer's estate. That meant Windsor faced a $360,000 tax bill that the surviving spouse in a heterosexual couple would not have.

Fast-forward to June 2013, when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that an essential section of the law was unconstitutional and that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to the same federal benefits that heterosexual couples receive.

But the journey to marriage equality didn't end there. The opinion in Windsor's case became the basis for several federal court rulings that struck down state same-sex marriage bans and led to a 2015 Supreme Court ruling giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry across the country.

PHOTO: New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, left, and Edie Windsor, plaintiff in United States v. Windsor, join their supporters as they gather to celebrate two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court during a rally in New York, June 26, 2013. Jason DeCrow/AP
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, left, and Edie Windsor, plaintiff in United States v. Windsor, join their supporters as they gather to celebrate two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court during a rally in New York, June 26, 2013.

Below, a roundup of public figures who took to social media to pay tribute to Windsor:

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y.

Former President Bill Clinton

Former NYC City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez

Hillary Clinton

Chelsea Clinton

GLAAD

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio

Filmmaker Dustin Lance Black

Actress and former talk show host Rosie O'Donnell

Actor George Takei

Actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Talk show host Andy Cohen

Tennis star Billie Jean King