Big Philadelphia Law Firm Has To Give Death Benefits To A Lesbian Widow

Sarah Ellyn Farley died of cancer just four years after marrying Jennifer Tobits in Canada.

A federal judge has handed a huge court victory to the lesbian widow of a Cozen O’Connor lawyer, ruling death benefits from the firm belonged to her — not her late wife’s parents.

Pennsylvania judge Darnell Jones ruled that Jean Tobits was entitled to the death benefits from the profit-sharing plan at Cozen, where her widow Sarah Ellyn Farley worked before she died of cancer in 2010.

Those benefits were governed by federal law. Since the government has to recognise same-sex marriages now, Farley’s same-sex spouse was entitled to benefits under the profit-sharing plan.

This was not a simple case. Farley and Tobits married in Canada and lived in Illinois, where they couldn’t legally become married, but where same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions are recognised.

Making things more complicated, Cozen O’Connor is based in Philadelphia, Penn., where not even same-sex domestic partnerships are recognised. But Judge Jones ruled that since the state they resided in recognised Tobits as the “surviving spouse,” she’s the spouse under federal law too, and therefore entitled to federal retirement benefits.

After Farley died at the age of 37, both her parents (who reportedly didn’t approve of her marriage) and Tobits filed for the $49,000 payment from the firm. The firm asked the court to settle the dispute.

Farley’s parents said they were entitled to the payment because the federal government did not recognise same-sex marriage under the defence of Marriage Act. While the case was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, which said the federal government doesn’t recognise same-sex marriages.

That decision paved the way for Judge Jones’ ruling, which could help same-sex partners get federal benefits from companies based in states that don’t recognise gay marriage.

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