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US court recognizes lesbian widow’s Canadian marriage

Jean Tobits now eligible for survivor’s benefits in Illinois

Sarah Ellyn Farley and Jean Tobits Credit: National Center for Lesbian Rights

A lesbian widow in Illinois has the right to survivor’s benefits after the death of her spouse, even though Illinois recognizes only civil unions, a federal court decided July 29, the Washington Blade reports.

Jean Tobits and Sarah Ellyn Farley were married in Canada before moving to Illinois, where Farley died of cancer in 2010.

According to the Obama administration’s interpretation of the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Tobits should not be able to receive benefits because she was not married to Farley in Illinois — the couple had only a civil union.

But a US District Court ruled that civil union laws in Illinois are sufficient for the federal government to recognize Tobits and Farley’s Canadian marriage.

The ruling does not necessarily mean that all Americans with civil unions will be eligible for federal marriage benefits. It does, however, suggest that couples married in other jurisdictions can retain the full federal benefits of marriage, even in civil union states.