Courts recognize same-sex spouse’s claims


The decision of the United States Supreme Court declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional will have far-reaching effects on same-sex couples and their employers.

An example is the recent case of Cozen O’Connor v. J.J. Tobits, 2013-2 USTC 50,453, Aug. 2, 2013.

Jennifer Tobits and Sarah Ellyn Farley married in Toronto in 2006. Shortly after her death, Farley’s parents filed a petition in Illinois probate court to take over the administration of her estate, telling the court that their daughter had “never married” and that they, not Tobits, were her heirs.

Tobits filed a cross-petition defending her status as Farley’s surviving spouse under Illinois law. Illinois recognizes marriages between same-sex couples as civil unions. Receiving recognition as a partner in a civil union includes the right to be treated as a surviving spouse when one partner dies.

Farley’s parents also told her employer, Cozen O’Connor, that they should receive their daughter’s death benefits under the firm’s profit-sharing plan. Cozen O’Connor filed an action in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to determine whether Tobits or Farley’s parents should receive the benefits.

In September 2012, the Illinois probate court closed the estate. Tobits was recognized as Farley’s sole heir and legal representative. The probate court ruled that Tobits was entitled to be treated the same as any other spouse under Illinois law and that Farley’s parents had no right to interfere with her status as spouse.

Now the federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that Tobits must be recognized as Farley’s spouse under the terms of Farley’s employer-sponsored profit-sharing plan.