NEW YORK — About a thousand people gathered Wednesday on the block where a 1969 riot sparked the gay rights movement to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Supporters of gay marriage greeted each other with hugs and salutations of “congratulations” as they amassed for a rally organized by GLAAD, one of the country’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups.
Before a host of speakers — including Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who challenged the federal law — took to the stage on Stonewall Place in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, people danced as pop music blasted.
“This opens the door for the federal rights we were denied,” said Stephen Williams, of Brooklyn, who was legally married to his husband just a week after New York legalized gay marriage in June 2011. “It’s a huge step forward.”
When Windsor walked onto the stage, she was greeted by cheers and thunderous applause.
“I am honored and humbled and overjoyed to be here,” she said, “to represent not only the thousands of Americans whose lives have been adversely affected by the Defense of Marriage Act but the thousands whose hopes and dreams have been constricted by it.”
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision Wednesday morning, gave legally married gay couples equal federal footing with other married Americans. Windsor, 84, had sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after her partner for 44 years, Thea Clara Spyer, died in 2009.
She was interrupted repeatedly by applause from the crowd and chants of “Edie, Edie, Edie!”
“Let me just say the federal government picked the wrong New Yorker to screw with when they sent Edie that tax bill,” quipped City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is openly gay, when she took the stage.
Moments earlier, Windsor had made an impromptu trip to the microphone, holding the Democratic speaker’s hand above her head as she endorsed her for mayor.
Quinn praised the court’s decision, adding that she was gratified to see a law she described as “a cancer” be overturned.
“It’s almost impossible to describe the feeling of your government striking a law from the books that was literally a cancer,” she said, describing it as a law that said “I was the second-highest ranking official in this city but I was less than my next door neighbors. That’s gone. That’s gone.”
Edward DeBonis, who attended the rally with his husband, Vincent Maniscalco, said the couple was ecstatic about the court’s decision, praising Windsor for bringing the lawsuit and seeing it through.
“She’s a rock star,” he said.
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