Judge Rules That Lesbian Widow Jennifer Tobits Gets Survivor Benefits From Cozen O'Connor Law Firm

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A federal judge cited United States v. Windsor, the case that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional last month, when he ruled that a lesbian widow is entitled to survivor benefits from her deceased wife’s employer.

Judge C. Darnell Jones II cited the case when ruling that Cozen O'Connor P.C., a law firm based in Philadelphia owed benefits to Jennifer Tobits, whose wife Sarah Ellyn Farley held a $41,000 profit-sharing plan before her death.

"Following the court's ruling, the term 'spouse' is no long unconstitutionally restricted to members of the opposite sex, but now rightfully includes those same-sex spouses in otherwise valid marriages," Judge Jones ruled.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the case arose out of a dispute over the benefits accrued by partner Farley before her death from cancer in 2009. A beneficiary form – signed just hours before Farley's death, which was suspicious in the eyes of lawyers representing Tobits – says the parents are the beneficiaries.

The parents, David and Joan Farley, argued they have to be the beneficiary because DOMA defines "spouse" as a person of the opposite sex. That definition, they argued, prohibits the law firm’s plan from recognizing Tobits as Farley's wife.

The parents also argued that a similar Pennsylvania statute limiting marriage to between a man and a woman also should bar Tobits from receiving the benefits from the firm.

"Today's decision is not only a victory for Jennifer and Ellyn, it is a victory for every married same-sex couple in the country," said National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter, who represented Tobits, in an emailed statement. "No longer can employers hide behind DOMA to deny equal benefits to some employees solely because their spouse is a person of the same sex."

Tobits and Farley married in 2006 before Farley was diagnosed with a rare cancer.

Sources: Huffington Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette