LGBT court case gets federal help

The Department of Justice has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in response to a Pennsylvania case disputing whether a woman’s same-sex partner was entitled to her death benefits.

Pa. Judge Darnell Jones II, who gave the Department of Justice and other parties in Cozen O’Connor v. Tobits a chance to weigh in before ruling, will consider all the arguments on Mar. 12. The implications could be far-reaching for LGBT Pennsylvanians.

The Defense of Marriage Act is a 1996 law that limits the federal definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Pennsylvania also has its own “mini DOMA” similarly defining marriage.  

“If it’s overturned, it opens up all types of rights,” said Mazzoni Center Legal Director David Rosenblum. “So many things are connected to the right to marry – tax implications, real estate transfers, family law disputes. There’s something like 1,000 different mentions of ‘husband and wife’ in Pennsylvania law alone.”

O’Connor law firm partner Sarah Farley’s wife, Jennifer Tobits, argues she is heir to Farley’s estate, but Farley’s parents filed a separate Pa. claim that it is theirs because due to the federal and state laws’ definition of marriage.


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