Catholic Activists Helped Bring Marriage Equality Case to the Supreme Court

Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor

Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor

Yesterday, Bondings 2.o highlighted the role that Catholics played at the prayer service and public demonstration as the Supreme Court heard two cases involving marriage equality this week.   Today, Jamie Manson, award-winning columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, highlights an important behind-the-scenes story about Catholic involvement in one of those cases–the challenge to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   The plaintiff in that case is Edie Windsor, who was  married to Thea Spyer,  Toronto, Canada, in 2007.  Their marriage was recognized since 2008 by New York State, where they lived.  Yet, when Spyer passed away, Windsor received  a$363,053 estate tax bill  from the federal government which would not have been sent if the married couple were heterosexual.

What Manson highlights is the work that three Catholic gay activists, who are members of Dignity/New York, did to bring this case to the Supreme Court.  The first is Brendan Fay, who arranged for Windsor and Spyer’s wedding in Toronto.  Manson explains:

Brendan Fay

Brendan Fay

” ‘Edie called for help. It was urgent,’ Fay says. Windsor’s partner of almost four decades, Thea Spyer, had been battling multiple sclerosis since 1975, and doctors had given her only months to live. Fay reached out to Canadian Judge Harvey Brownstone of the Ontario Court of Justice, who gladly performed the ceremony.

“Fay was part of a small contingent of friends that shepherded Edie and Thea, who was confined to a motorized wheelchair, to a Toronto hotel, where they were married May 22, 2007.

” ‘There was hardly a dry eye as they exchanged words, “With this ring I thee wed … in sickness and in health, till death do us part,'” Fay remembers.”

When Fay learned of Windsor’s estate tax problem, he sought aid from two friends:

Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis

Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis

“After Mass one evening, he enlisted the help of fellow Dignity members Edward DeBonis and Vincent Maniscalco, who have been married since 2002. (Theirs was the first Catholic same-sex wedding announced in The New York Times.) DeBonis, an attorney, immediately thought of [Roberta] Kaplan [the attorney who argued Windsor’s case at the Supreme Court yesterday], whom they had watched argue the 2004 marriage suit filed by 13 couples before the New York State Court of Appeals.”Robbie was compelling,” DeBonis recalls, “and she and her partner, Rachel Lavine, have been passionate about the marriage equality issue for many years.”

And Windsor attributes all her celebrity status to Fay:

” ‘Everything that has happened to make me so famous at this moment is caused by Brendan Fay,’ Windsor told the crowd a few weeks ago at a benefit concert for the St. Pat’s For All parade, an event Fay spearheaded in 2000. ‘When I first saw the brief that said Edie Windsor vs. the United States of America, I said, “No, no, blame him, not me!” she laughed.’ “

Bondings 2.o already noted the role Catholics have played in the prayer service and demonstration at the Supreme Court, as well as the fact that six of the nine justices on the Court are Catholic.  Manson’s story highlights yet another important role that Catholics have played in this story.  Fay, DeBonis, and Maniscalco are to be lauded for living their faith so boldly and generously.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Barbara Abb Nohr
    Barbara Abb Nohr says:

    Please don’t forget Brendan’s spouse Tom Mouton who is behind the scenes all the way with his wit, modesty, wisdom and full-on support for Brendan and all that he (they) do. They went to Poland a few years ago when the now deceased president came out against joining the European Union because of same sex marriage. He used without authorization not only used their marriage picture but their license.

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