Court rules lesbian widow must receive survivor’s benefits

Washington Blade
|
July 30, 2013

A federal court has determined that a lesbian widow is entitled to her late spouse’s benefits partly on the basis that Illinois civil union law is sufficient for federal purposes — a view that differs from the Obama administration’s interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act.

On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in a 12-page unsigned decision that Jean Tobits is entitled to survivor’s benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, following the death of her spouse, Sarah Ellyn Farley, who died of cancer in 2010.

“Windsor makes clear that where a state has recognized a marriage as valid, the United States Constitution requires that the federal laws and regulations of this country acknowledge that marriage,” the decision states. “In light of that, this Court finds that Ms. Tobits is Ms. Farley’s ‘Spouse’ pursuant to the terms of the Plan.”