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Marriage Equality Cases

Jerner Law Group, P.C. has been on the forefront of fighting for LGBT civil rights for more than a decade. Jerner Law Group, P.C. has represented LGBT clients in marriage equality cases in Pennsylvania in both federal and state court.

IN RE: ESTATE OF BURGI-RIOS, Orphans’ Court of Northampton County, Pennsylvania

Barbara Baus, a widow residing in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, sought equal treatment under Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax law. Barbara Baus and Catherine Burgi-Rios resided together for more than 15 years and married in April of 2011 in Connecticut. After Cathy’s death in September of 2012, Barbara filed the required Inheritance Tax Return with the Register of Wills of Northampton County, noting her status as Cathy’s spouse. She claimed the spousal rate for Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax, which is zero. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue responded by stating her marriage is “not valid in Pennsylvania” and assessed taxes due under the rate that applies to legal strangers, which is 15%, the highest rate of inheritance tax charged in Pennsylvania. The case was ultimately settled and Barbara’s marriage was afforded full recognition by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. As a result of the case, the Department of Revenue also agreed to retroactive recognition of other Pennsylvanians’ same-sex marriages.

PALLADINO v. CORBETT, et al., United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Cara Palladino and Isabelle Barker filed a federal court case seeking recognition of their Massachusetts marriage. Cara and Isabelle, who have been a couple for over 20 years, married in February 2005 in Massachusetts, where they then resided. They relocated to Pennsylvania in August 2005. The case was voluntarily dismissed following the ruling in Whitewood v. Wolf, another case which challenged the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban.

COZEN O’CONNOR v. JENNIFER TOBITS, et al., United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Jennifer Tobits and Sarah Ellyn (“Ellyn”) Farley married in Toronto in 2006. Two weeks after their wedding, Farley was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The couple fought the disease together for four years until September 2010, when Ellyn died at the age of 37.

After her death, Ellyn’s parents contacted her employer seeking to receive their daughter’s retirement benefits under the firm’s profit-sharing plan. Jennifer also requested that she receive the benefits as Ellyn’s surviving spouse. In January 2011, the employer filed an action in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to determine whether Jennifer or Ellyn’s parents should receive the benefits.

On July 29, 2013, Judge C. Darnell Jones II of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ordered payment of retirement benefits to Jennifer. The court held that because the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federally-regulated retirement and benefit plans must now recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for purposes of spousal benefits.