The question of whether benefits in a federally-regulated pension plan can be given to the wife of a deceased female partner at Philadelphia-based Cozen O'Connor would appear to be answered in part by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision ruling the federal Defense of Marriage Act partly unconstitutional.
But the court's decision to pass on the merits of a second case, regarding whether individual states must allow for same-sex marriage, could mean questions still pervade in a suit that pits the parents and the surviving spouse of the partner against each other in a battle for $41,000 in pension benefits.
Under the Supreme Court ruling last week in United States v. Windsor, the federal Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between one man and one woman was deemed unconstitutional as a deprivation of equal liberty.
That means federal benefits can no longer be denied to legally married same-sex couples. The issue, however, is the "legally married" caveat. The Supreme Court declined to rule Wednesday on the merits of the so-called Prop 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, regarding whether California's law banning same-sex marriage was constitutional.
A ruling that a same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional could have forced all states to recognize same-sex marriage.
The DOMA decision bars the federal government from discriminating against same-sex couples legally married in states that recognize the marriages.
In Cozen O'Connor v. Tobits, former Cozen O'Connor Chicago-based partner Sarah Ellyn Farley married Jennifer Tobits in Canada in 2006. The couple lived in Illinois, where civil unions were adopted after Farley's death in 2010.
The retirement plan at issue "resides" in Pennsylvania.
Now, there is some debate as to whether the couple can be considered legally married for the purpose of Ms. Tobits' receiving the benefits.