In 2007, New Yorkers Edie Windsor, 77, and Thea Spyer, 75, made plans to travel to Toronto, Canada, so they could be legally married after four decades together. When one of the wedding organizers introduced them to renowned documentarians and longtime partners Susan Muska and Gréta Ólafsdottir, the filmmaking duo quickly realized that they’d found their next project.
Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement premiered in 2009 at San Francisco's Frameline Film Festival, four months after Spyer passed away. "It got a standing ovation," Ólafsdottir remembers, sitting in the Manhattan apartment she shares with Muska. "It was a beautiful gift to Edie."
It soon became something even more. After Windsor was forced to pay $363,053 in estate taxes, she sued the federal government to recognize her exemption as Spyer’s surviving spouse. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in her favor—and struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in the process. The couple’s love story, captured so compellingly in Edie & Thea, played a huge role in the outcome. As Muska puts it, “Edie will say the film was the evidence for her case that she had a relationship that could be called a marriage.”
The film documents Windsor and Spyer's remarkable romance and their struggle to thrive in a homophobic world. Despite their ever-present fear of being outed, the two women managed to hold onto their hard-won careers—Windsor was a computer consultant at I.B.M and Spyer a clinical psychologist. The cosmopolitan beauties lived large, drinking and dancing at the hottest underground queer clubs, sunning at the Hamptons in the summer, traveling from Suriname to Venice, and loving one another with passion and devotion. After Spyer, a sultry brunette, was struck with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis, Windsor remained by her side, caring for her and finding innovative ways to preserve their sex life. Gay rights aside, this may be the film's most groundbreaking achievement: It depicts two septuagenarians—one disabled—as vibrant partners full of fun and palpable sexuality.