The 83-year-old New York widow whose case is at the center of the Supreme Court's review of federal benefits for gay couples said after speaking to the justices Wednesday that she believes the outcome is "gonna be good."
Edith Windsor sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer, died in 2009. The pair married in Canada in 2007. Spyer left everything she had to Windsor, and had Windsor been married to a man, she would not have paid any estate tax.
"In the midst of my grief I realized the federal government was treating us as strangers, and I paid a humongous estate tax," Windsor said outside the court Wednesday.
The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York agreed with a district judge that the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act deprived Windsor of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court indicated it could strike down the law that prevents legally married gay couples from receiving federal benefits that go to other married people, and questioned Windsor as part of the proceedings.
She said she felt the justices were gentle, direct and "asked all the right questions."
"I didn't feel any hostility or any sense of inferiority," she said. "I felt we were very, very respected and I think, I think it's gonna be good."
Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the decisive vote in close cases, joined the four more liberal justices in raising questions about the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that is being challenged at the court.
Kennedy said the law appears to intrude on the power of states that have chosen to recognize same-sex marriages. Other justices said the law creates what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called two classes of marriage, full and "skim-milk marriage."
The federal law affects a range of benefits available to married couples, including tax breaks, survivor benefits and health insurance for spouses of federal employees.
It still is possible the court could dismiss the case for procedural reasons, though that prospect seemed less likely than it did in Tuesday's argument over gay marriage in California.
The motivation behind the 1996 federal law, passed by large majorities in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, was questioned repeatedly by Justice Elena Kagan.