Farley and Tobits were married in Canada, and then moved to Illinois. Farley died in 2010, before Illinois legalized civil unions and recognized same-sex marriages performed in other states in 2011. However, the federal judge determined that the ruling in U.S. v. Windsor would retroactively apply, and that because now their marriage would be recognized in Illinois, it should apply for the purposes of the ERISA statute.
This decision could have very important implications for family law in the United States. First, this means that the statute can be retroactively applied in these types of cases. Even though this woman died before same-sex marriage and civil unions were recognized by the state in which she lived, her surviving spouse was able to use the newfound Federal recognition of same-sex marriage to claim her benefits under federal law. Moreover, the court enforced a private agreement with a choice of law provision from a state that does not recognize same sex marriage. This is important because it means that the federal preemption applies to topics governing federal law even when a contract between private parties specifies a state law application.
In terms of Pennsylvania law, this does not yet have much effect, because the ruling was still narrowed to only apply because of residence in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages and civil unions. However, this could be important for national businesses operating in Pennsylvania with offices in other states, if it survives on appeal.
Contact our Pittsburgh family lawyers today to discuss your family law case!