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Edith Windsor, American gay marriage campaigner dies

The widow who brought a Supreme Court case that quashed a federal anti-gay marriage law has died in New York, aged 88. Same-sex weddings only became legal across the US six years after her first spouse died.

Former US President Barack Obama led tributes to gay rights campaigner Edith Windsor following her death on Tuesday.

He said Windsor, who had heart issues for many years, was one of the "quiet heroes" whose persistence over same-sex marriage laws had furthered the cause of equality.

"Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor — and few made as big a difference to America," Obama said in a statement

Her lawyer Roberta Kaplan confirmed her passing in New York but didn't give a cause of death.

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Five year legal battle

In 2010,Windsor filed a lawsuit against the US government that would irrevocably alter the the lives of tens of thousands of same-sex couples.

Her legal action was prompted by the death a year earlier of her first spouse, Thea Spyer, who she married legally in 2007 in Canada following a four-decade-long relationship.

Windsor, who was already 81 at the time, challenged the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act's definition of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.

She said the legislation prevented her from getting a marital tax deduction on Spyer's estate, leaving her with a $360,000 (300,000 euro) bill that heterosexual couples would not have.

Her case mirrored countless others, who were not recognized as spouses and therefore unable to receive myriad benefits available to those in traditional marriages.

Washington Supreme Court Edith Windsor

Windsor took actions that saw the Defense of Marriage Act being ruled unconstitutional

Although she had originally gone to court to win the tax refund, her case eventually ended up in the Supreme Court, which overturned the Defense of Marriage law in June 2013.

Justices ruled 5-4 that it was unconstitutional to deny the same federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

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The court's decision was criticized by conservatives, many of whom continue to believe that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman.

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Didn't apply nationwide

The equality fight would continue for a further two years because the initial ruling only applied in the 13 states that recognized gay marriages. But in 2015, the Supreme Court struck down some 37 state marriage bans, giving same-sex couples the right to marry from coast to coast.Even that ruling met with obstacles in some states.

Born in Philadelphia, Windsor moved to Manhattan in the early 1950s after a brief marriage to a man; it ended after she told him she was gay. She met Spyer in 1963 and they became a couple two years later.

They later married in Canada after realizing that they might not live long enough to see New York legalize same-sex marriage. It was 2011 before the state allowed gay unions.

Last year, Windsor married her current spouse, Judith Kasen-Windsor, a banker.

"I lost my beloved spouse Edie, and the world lost a tiny but tough as nails fighter for freedom, justice and equality," Kasen-Windsor said in a statement. 

mm/jm (AP, AFP)

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