Death taxes become Pa. gay marriage battle front
HARRISBURG — Two women in separate cases have challenged Pennsylvania's policy that same-sex couples are not covered under the inheritance tax waiver that applies to heterosexual couples.
Barbara Alma Baus filed a petition in Northampton County's orphan's court on Friday, saying she married Catherine Burgi-Rios in Connecticut in 2011 and should not have to pay a 15 percent levy on Burgi-Rios' estate.
Meanwhile, a Department of Revenue Board of Appeals hearing officer this week will consider a protest of the inheritance taxes charged to the estate of Jeanne Schwartz. Schwartz' partner, Nancy Nixon, is seeking to overturn a $21,000 tax bill.
“It is a lot of money to me,” said Nixon, 68, of Carlisle. “The main thing to me is that gay people should not be discriminated in this way. A relationship that is equal to a marriage in every sense should be treated as a marriage by the state.”
Nixon said she and Schwartz, who worked in social services at a hospital, were together from 1981 until Schwartz died in April 2012 from an extended illness. They were never married in a state that permits same-sex unions.
She said she plans to pursue the matter further if she loses before the hearing officer, who will hold a hearing on Nixon's appeal on Wednesday.
A 1996 state law defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
“In its administration of the tax laws, the Department of Revenue is required to follow the laws of Pennsylvania,” said Elizabeth Brassell, the agency's press secretary.
Baus and Burgi-Rios lived together for 15 years before they were married in Connecticut. Burgi-Rios died in September 2012 from complications related to leukemia.
The petition by Baus, a Bethlehem resident, challenges the state's same-sex ban on constitutional grounds. The tax bill is about $11,000.
“This is someone who lost a spouse, and I think a lot of people can relate,” said Baus' lawyer, Tiffany Palmer. She said Pennsylvania is essentially nullifying the marriage and taxing Baus as though she didn't even know her spouse or have a financial relationship with her.
The lawsuit challenges the ban based on a clause in the state constitution requiring tax laws to apply equally, on the state's Equal Rights Amendment and on equal protection and due process grounds.
Pennsylvania's inheritance tax rate is zero for surviving spouses or for transfers to parents from children who are 21 or younger. It is 4.5 percent on transfers to direct descendants or lineal heirs, 12 percent on transfers to siblings and 15 percent for all others.
The tax-related actions are among a group of federal and state cases challenging the same-sex marriage ban. The challenges occur in the aftermath of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that involved Edith Windsor, an 84-year-old widow who challenged a $363,000 tax bill on her late wife's estate.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Chief justice revokes Feudale’s senior judge status
- White House Christmas tree sent from Pennsylvania
- Settlements in Sandusky scandal up to nearly $93 million for Penn State
- Western Pa. dairies get creative to ensure eggnog supply
- Pennsylvania Senate defeats tax overhaul plan
- Philly traffic stop turns violent; trooper shot in shoulder
- Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf: ‘Theatrics’ holding up budget
- Western Pa. community colleges struggle for relevancy as enrollment falls
- Penn State pledges tuition freeze in exchange for greater state subsidy
- Amish man runs Harrisburg marathon in his traditional clothing
- Philly DA says training helped prosecutors named in scandal