Dispute over woman’s estate between her partner, parents highlights the problems of DOMA

From The Dallas Voice:  http://www.dallasvoice.com/testing-era-defines-spouse-1087191.html

Posted on 25 Aug 2011

CHUCK COLBERT | Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

One obituary described Ellyn Farley as a happy, studious, pet-loving attorney married to her spouse Jennifer Tobits and only “reluctantly” wearing dresses to attend Mass.

The other described her as a fierce litigator and champion to the underdog, survived by her parents, her brother, various aunts and uncles, a godmother, and “good friends for life who will be in her heart forever, Jennifer and Nancy, of Chicago; and numerous cousins and other devoted friends.”

The first was published in the Chicago Tribune, in the city where Farley lived with her spouse Jennifer Tobits. The latter was published in the Roanoke Times, in Virginia, where Farley grew up.

The first was drafted by one of the lesbian couple’s friends and was reviewed and edited by Tobits.

The latter was coordinated by Farley’s parents who, according to Tobits, did not consult her about its contents.

The first makes clear that Farley was married to a woman; the latter scrubs that reality out of her life story.

Now, Farley’s surviving spouse, Jennifer Tobits, and her parents, Joan and David Farley, are squaring off in two different courts over their different portrayals of Farley.

In probate court in Illinois, they are fighting over Farley’s will. In a federal court in Pennsylvania, where Farley’s law firm is headquartered, they are trying to influence a judge’s determination of who should properly receive the benefits of Farley’s profit-sharing plan.

“This is the new era,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. “We are all familiar with hearing stories about parents stepping in and not honoring their children’s relationships and trying to take all the assets. Now that so many couples are in marriages or civil unions or domestic partnerships, it’s still happening; but we have a degree … of legal protections that we didn’t have before.”

But in this new era of litigation, Minter said, “there is a lot of confusion” caused by the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

DOMA

DOMA is the federal law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples. It has two sections.

One states, “No state … shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other state … respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other state, territory, possession or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.”

The second section reads, “In determining the meaning of any act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

Farley’s parents, represented by the right-wing Thomas More Society, a pro-life law firm, say DOMA precludes the courts from awarding any of Farley’s death benefits to Tobits.

Continue reading at:  http://www.dallasvoice.com/testing-era-defines-spouse-1087191.html

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