They gathered at a historic place, on a momentous day, to welcome a new icon.
Inside the Stonewall Inn in New York’s West Village, the buoyant mood grew hushed as a white-haired 83-year old woman appeared on all of the bar’s television screens.
“We won everything we asked and hoped for – wow,” said Edith Windsor, appearing at a press conference just hours after Wednesday’s landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case where she was the plaintiff.
There were cheers, laughter and weeping from those gathered at Stonewall as Ms. Windsor celebrated her victory, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, paving the way for gay married couples to receive full equality under federal law.
The moment was a tribute to her long-time partner, Thea Spyer, whom she met more than forty years ago and married in 2007 in Toronto.
Ms. Speyer died in 2009. “If I had to survive Thea, what a glorious way to do it,” Ms. Windsor said in a gravelly voice. “She would be so pleased.”
As Ms. Windsor spoke, Doug Shapiro stood toward the back of the darkened room with his husband, Shawn Cowls, and wiped tears from his eyes.
He thought about all the friends who would no longer have to worry that their partner would be deported: now gay Americans will be able to sponsor their non-American spouse to remain in the country, just as heterosexual spouses can.
“When that lightbulb hit, that’s when the waterworks really started,” said Mr. Shapiro, 43, an actor.
Once the ruling was announced Wednesday morning, the couple left their Manhattan apartment in a state of joyous shock and headed to Stonewall, where riots against police harassment in 1969 touched off the modern gay-rights movement.
“We just had to come out and see if it was still real,” said Mr. Cowls, 47, a financial adviser. “It’s kind of amazing how much safer it feels.”
Outside, Darcee Bolt arrived with her sister, brother-in-law, and baby nephew, a rainbow flag proudly affixed to his stroller. Next summer, Ms. Bolt will marry her fiancée in New York.
“With every win we’ve had, everyone comes here,” said Ms. Bolt, 34, who works at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Tonight this place is going to be like Mardi Gras.”
On Sunday, Ms. Bolt will march in New York’s gay pride parade, where, thanks to her work, she will have the opportunity to stand with Ms. Windsor, right at the front.
“It will be the highlight of my life,” she said. “It’s going to be off the hook.”
Inside the bar, festooned with rainbow-themed flags and paper lanterns, Ms. Windsor’s televised press conference continued to captivate the crowd. She and her wife lived by two mantras, she said. Hers was “Don’t postpone joy,” while Ms. Speyer’s was, “Keep it hot.” The entire room burst into laughter.
“It makes me feel incredibly proud and humble,” said Ms. Windsor of comparisons to civil-rights heroes like Rosa Parks. “An accident of history put me here.”
Ms. Windsor added that she doesn’t plan to remain a standard-bearer. “I don’t have a ton of years left and I would like to relax a little bit,” she said.
The moment she finished, there was an impromptu toast at the bar. “To Edie!” someone cried, as a host of glasses were raised high.