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Plaintiff thrilled with gay marriage court ruling

In this file photo, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks with gay rights activist Edith Windsor, of New York City, prior to a news conference to announce the introduction of a Senate bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington last year. As the plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging DOMA, Windsor was thrilled with a U.S. district court ruling Thursday in her favor. AP Images

NEW YORK — The 82-year-old plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act said Thursday she was delighted and elated by a New York judge’s ruling in her favor.

“Obviously I’m thrilled with the judge’s decision,” Edith Windsor said, referring to Wednesday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones that struck down a key component of the federal law denying benefits to partners in a gay marriage.

Windsor and her partner, Thea Spyer, were together 44 years before Spyer died in 2009. They had married in Canada in 2007, but the federal law meant Windsor didn’t qualify for the unlimited marital deduction on her spouse’s estate and was required to pay $363,053 in federal estate tax. Windsor sued the government in November 2010.

Jones ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act’s efforts to define marriage “intrude upon the states’ business of regulating domestic relations.”

Her ruling came just days after a federal appeals court in Boston found the law’s denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples unconstitutional. In California, two federal judges found this year that the law violates the due-process rights of legally married same-sex couples. The issue is likely to reach the Supreme Court.

“The decision that we got from Judge Jones in New York yesterday deepens an emerging consensus among federal judges that the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates the federal Constitution,” said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.

Esseks and other lawyers who worked on the case joined Windsor at a Manhattan news conference where she described her life with Spyer. The couple was the subject of a 2009 documentary, “Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement.”

The women met in 1963 at a restaurant in Greenwich Village, started dating in 1965 and became engaged in 1967, though marriage was a distant dream then. Windsor wore a circular diamond brooch instead of a ring. “I couldn’t wear an engagement ring because people would want to know who he is and things like that,” she said.

Spyer was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis in 1977 and eventually became a quadriplegic but continued to work as a clinical psychologist, Windsor said. Windsor worked as a senior assistance programmer for IBM.

Windsor said she was distraught at Spyer’s death but “the combination of the film and the suit kind of gave me a reason to live.”