Two widows challenge Pa. marriage law over inheritance taxes

In separate cases, two Pennsylvania women are protesting the inheritance taxes they paid after the death of their same-sex partners.

Barbara Baus and her wife lived in Bethlehem but married legally out of state. After Baus’s partner died of leukemia in 2012, her attorney Tiffany Palmer says she filed her inheritance tax return with the state as a “spouse,” on the basis of her Connecticut marriage license.

Pennsylvania then assessed her the rate applied to “legal strangers,” 15 percent.

“This is really all about fairness,” said Palmer. “She’s already had to deal with the loss of a spouse and having Pennsylvania not recognize her marriage that she entered into validly with her long time partner just adds insult to an already difficult situation.”

Palmer is bringing a constitutional challenge on her behalf.

In Carlisle, Nancy Nixon is asking the state to recognize her “common-law marriage” to her partner of three decades in an appeal to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

The Department’s spokesperson, Elizabeth Brassell says the agency cannot recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states.

“In the department’s administration of inheritance tax we have to follow all the laws of Pennsylvania,” she said, adding that anyone whose appeal is rejected by the agency would have the ability to bring their case to Commonwealth Court.

Baus’s attorney noted the cases shared commonalities with United States v. Windsor, which led the U.S. Supreme Court to repeal key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June.  In that case, a New York widow challenged the assessment of federal inheritance taxes.

Since June, a half dozen lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts in Pennsylvania seeking to legalize same-sex marriage.


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