A local woman coping with the death of her partner is filing a lawsuit over an inheritance tax which she claims discriminates against same-sex couples.
Barbara Baus, a retired teacher from Bethlehem, Pa., says she and her partner, Cathy Burgi-Rios, got married in Connecticut back in 2011, after being together for 14 years.
“It was a real thing,” Baus said. “It was a real wedding, it was a real marriage.”
Before the couple could live their new life together however, tragedy struck. Cathy was suddenly diagnosed with leukemia. She died in 2012 at the age of 55, prompting a letter of condolence from First Lady Michelle Obama.
“We had made wills out,” Baus said. “Everything we owned was owned together. We owned two cars together. All of our bank accounts are in both of our names. So we led a married life.”
Months after Cathy’s death, Baus filed her Pennsylvania Inheritance tax return.
“I put down that I was her wife and that I owe zero percent,” Baus said. “I filed it and of course, got a letter back a couple weeks later saying, ‘No, that’s not going to work.’”
Barbara says she was charged a nearly $11,000 inheritance tax because Pennsylvania does not recognize same-sex marriages. She then sued the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, claiming she was the victim of discrimination.
“We just want equality,” Baus said. “Marriage equality. We want Pennsylvania to recognize us as a married couple and to give us the respect that straight couples get.”
Baus had her first court appearance earlier this week in Northampton County. A judge will eventually have to decide if her same-sex marriage is truly deductible.
Thomas Gohsler, an attorney for the revenue department, told the Morning Call that Baus “blurs the line between what is the law and what she believes the law should be.” Gohsler also claimed that Baus has “done nothing more than broadly conclude, without foundation, that the right she seeks already exists.”
Baus says her fight is not only for equality, but also for the love of her life.
“Cathy is up there grinning from ear to ear,” Baus said. “All of our friends acknowledge that she’s behind me all the way.”