US: Gay rights groups commend judge for ruling that benefits be paid to same-sex marriage survivor

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A federal US judge in the has been applauded by equal marriage groups for ordering that death benefits been paid to a widow in a same-sex marriage.

Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, said: “This decision isn’t simply a victory for one loving, committed couple. It’s a huge win for married same-sex couples across this country,” Martin said.

This week a judge for the US Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania ordered the payments to go to the survivor of a same-sex spouse who died three years ago.

Judge Darnell Jones II ruled that because the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the US Supreme Court, federally-regulated retirement and benefit plans must recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples.

Judge Jones ordered the payments to be paid to Jennifer Tobits, the widow of Sarah Ellyn Farley, under a profit-sharing plan by Farley’s employer; law firm Cozen O’Conner PC.

“Ellyn was the love of my life,” Tobits told The National Center for Lesbian Rights. “No one should have to experience the pain of losing the person who means the most to you, only to face a shocking and hostile challenge to your marriage—your commitment, your life together, and everything you built as a couple.”

In the case, Judge Jones noted the DOMA strike-down in saying that the term “spouse” is no longer limited to specifically referring to someone of the opposite sex.

“This ruling makes clear that, with the striking down of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, legally married same-sex couples now have access to thousands of critical legal protections granted under federal law – including death benefits,” said Martin. “Now, employers can no longer use DOMA as an excuse to deny equal benefits to some employees solely because of their sexual orientation.”

Tobits and Farley had lived in Chicago and had been married in Toronto in 2006. Two weeks after their wedding, Farley was diagnosed with cancer, and died in 2010.

According to the NCLR, Farley’s parents had filed a court action claiming that their daughter had never married, and attempting to take over her estate.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, the health department is suing a court clerk of a county  who has been issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples.