PA Federal Judge Puts DOMA Case in Suspense

In the pending case of Cozen O’Connor v. Tobits, the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act is under review, as applied to the issue of whether a same sex spouse may collect the benefits from the insurance policy of her recently deceased wife, Sarah Ellyn Farley, a former partner at Cozen O’Connor. Tobits says she is owed the benefits as Farley’s wife, while Farley’s parents argue that they are legally entitled to the benefits, since neither federal nor Pennsylvania law recognize same sex marriage.

 DOMA, a 1996 federal law which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman, allowed the non-recognition of same sex marriages for purposes including insurance benefits, social security survivors’ benefits, and the filing of joint tax returns.

As recently as 2011, President Obama’s administration announced that section 3 which governs insurance benefits had been deemed unconstitutional, and that it would no longer be defended in court, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated that the Justice Department would not enforce DOMA. However, presiding U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones II of the EDPA, after hearing arguments on the constitutionality issue, has placed Cozen O’Connor v. Tobits on the suspense docket, pending consideration of various other cases raising similar issues.

 A relevant case, Office of Personnel Management v. Golinski, addresses a circumstance where staff attorney Karen Golinski was denied health coverage for her spouse, to whom she is married under California law, based on the language of DOMA. Lower courts in this case have declared DOMA unconstitutional.

 This may be an issue to watch, as the frequency with which the courts are accepting DOMA-related certiorari petitions in circumstances involving a same sex spouse beneficiary appears to be increasing.

 Thanks to Samantha Kaskey Berman for her contribution.

 For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at dricci@wcmlaw.com