Defense of Marriage Act plantiff Edith "Edie" Windsor Edith speaks...

Defense of Marriage Act plantiff Edith "Edie" Windsor Edith speaks at a press conference at the The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York. (June 26, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

New Yorker Edith Windsor went to Washington and changed the lives of same-sex couples across the country.

Windsor, 84, cemented her place in history as a gay-rights icon Wednesday after she successfully filed suit against the United States challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, bringing an end to parts of the 1996 law that denied same-sex married couples the legal rights and benefits of marriage.

Windsor, along with her lead attorney, Roberta Kaplan, and a handful of other lawyers, filed the lawsuit after her spouse, Thea Spyer, died in 2009 as a result of complications related to multiple sclerosis, leaving Windsor all of her property.

Windsor had to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes that, had Spyer been a man, she would not have been charged.

The case wound its way through the court system for 2 1/2 years before landing before the nation's highest court in March. Kaplan argued the case and, three months later, the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 majority against DOMA.

"If I had to survive Thea, what a glorious way to do it," Windsor said Wednesday near tears at the Manhattan headquarters of the ACLU after the ruling came down. "We won everything we asked and hoped for, [and] I'm honored and humbled and overjoyed to be here today.

"This is the beginning of the end of the stigma," Windsor added. "It's a different level of dignity."

Windsor met her late spouse at a West Village restaurant in 1965. The two instantly fell for each other, becoming engaged two years later and married in 2007 in Canada. Two years later, Spyer, who had become a quadriplegic because of her illness, died. After Wednesday's victory, Windsor, who will be the grand marshal in Sunday's Gay Pride Parade in Manhattan, said she will leave it to others to continue along the path she set.

"I don't have a ton of years left, and I'd like to relax a little bit," she said when asked if she will continue as a gay-rights leader. "There's a whole world of people who will do that."

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