A federal judge has ruled in favor of Jennifer Tobits, a lesbian widow who wants the death benefits of her deceased wife, Sarah Ellyn Farley.
In a 12-page ruling issued July 29, U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones awarded Tobits a lump-sum payment of about $41,000.
The women lived in Illinois, where Farley was an attorney at the law firm of Cozen O’Connor, which is based in Philadelphia.
In 2006, they were married in Canada.
After Farley’s death in 2010, Cozen filed a court action in Philadelphia, asking a judge to decide whether Farley’s death benefits should go to Tobits or Farley’s parents.
Cozen cited the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Pennsylvania’s DOMA as reasons to not recognize the women’s marriage.
But the federal DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court in June, and Jones ruled that Pennsylvania’s DOMA isn’t relevant, since the women lived in Illinois.
“There can be no doubt that Ms. Tobits is Ms. Farley’s ‘surviving spouse’ under [Cozen’s benefits] plan,” Jones wrote.
The judge also noted that Illinois’ civil-union law recognized the women’s Canadian marriage.
Christopher F. Stoll, an attorney for Tobits, praised Jones’ ruling.
“The judge’s decision indicates that every federally regulated pension plan must recognize a same-sex spouse,” said Christopher F. Stoll, an attorney for Tobits.
Stoll expects other judges around the country faced with similar cases to rely on Jones’ ruling for guidance.
“I think other courts will be influenced by this opinion,” Stoll added.
The Farleys have 30 days to appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Attorneys for the Farleys couldn’t be reached for comment.
Read more about this case in this Friday’s PGN.