The extraordinary full story of U.S. v. Windsor

I am awfully late in talking about Edie Windsor’s anti-DOMA battle against the United States but the NYT editorial — The Expanding Power of U.S. v. Windsor – — has nudged me.

In the September 30, 2013 New Yorker, Ariel Levy wrote the finest story about a lawsuit I’ve ever read. The piece is called “The Perfect Wife,” and the “perfect wife” is Edith Windsor. (The New Yorker does not permit links; you’ll have to go to the library or back issues or, if you have a New Yorker subscription, into the magazine’s archives to read this story. You must.)

The first paragraph of the article gives you a taste:

“Fuck the Supreme Court!” Edith Windsor said, one hideously hot morning in June, when she’d had just about enough. Then she sighed and mumbled, “Oh, I don’t mean that.” What she really meant was that she was hot, she was tired of waiting, and, most of all, she was tired of being told what to do. “I’m feeling very manhandled!” she said.

The full title is “Profiles: The Perfect Wife: How Edith Windsor fell in love, got married, and won a landmark case for gay marriage.”

As much as this is a full portrait of Edie Windsor, it is a full portrait of what actually happens during a long, landmark lawsuit that overturned a scurrilous act of Congress and came to a triumphant finish.

What is extraordinary about Levy’s story is its fullness, how it expands outward from the lawsuit process into everything that fascinates me about lawsuits. It starts, appropriately, by introducing the plaintiff, Edie Windsor and her love for Thea Spyer. Edie Windsor is not a blusher, so her story gives us all a full portrait of gay love. Which, it should not surprise too many people, is very much like straight love.

The carpeting underneath the lawsuit — what happened that brought Edie Windsor to sue. You meet the lawyers who pursued the suit, and are brought into their offices, their homes, their brains and personalities. You hear their theories and watch them act. The worries, warnings, stretches of time, disappointments and small victories along the very long way. The conversations, the politics, the decisions that emerged from those conversations, the papers filed. There are all the details, and then the nuances in the details.

Unlike most lawsuit stories, it does not, once the lawyers enter the story, shift its point of view to them and away from the plaintiff: Edie Windsor — her thoughts, her strength of character, humor, actions, decisions — is in every paragraph. And she is a wonderful companion.

“The Perfect Wife” is thrilling and moving and heroic and profound. Perfect.



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