Federal Judge Grants Benefits to Lesbian Widow
A federal judge ruled on Monday that a law firm must now share retirement benefits with the surviving spouse of a lesbian employee, just as it would for the spouses of heterosexual, married employees.
Illinois couple Jennifer Tobits and Sarah Ellyn Farley wed in Canada in 2006. After Farley's death from cancer in 2010, Tobits sued Farley's employer, a law firm with offices in Illinois where the couple lived, that was headquartered in Pennsylvania. Because marriages for same-sex couples — foreign and domestic — are not recognized under the laws of Pennsylvania, the firm initially denied spousal recognition to Tobits.
Judge C. Darnell Jones II ruled Monday, however, that the federally sanctioned financial plan to which Farley contributed must recognize Tobits's marriage to Farley. Jones ruled in their favor because the couple lived in Illinois, a state that does not allow same-sex marriages but recognizes same-sex marriages from outside states and foreign countries as civil unions.
"An Order from the Circuit Court for Cook County, Illinois, dated October 21, 2011, declared Ms. Tobits a party to a civil union with Ms. Farley and declared her Ms. Farley’s sole heir," Jones, a Bush appointee, wrote in his opinion Monday, according to Think Progress. "Furthermore, that court granted Ms. Tobits’ request to become administrator, authorizing her to take possession of and collect the estate of the decedent and to do all acts required by law."
The decision this week was put off until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Windsor v. U.S., in which the court ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.