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Woman takes fight for same-sex rights to court

Updated: Tuesday, October 29 2013, 10:04 PM CDT
Reported by: Kirk Clyatt

SOUTH MIDDLETON – Fourteen states, including all of the states here in the northeast except Pennsylvania, offer same sex couples the freedom to marry.

More than 43 percent of America's population lives in a state that provides some form of protection for gay couples, but not here in Pennsylvania. 

A Cumberland County woman is fighting a $21,000 tax bill from the state that she claims she would not have to pay had she been in a similar heterosexual relationship. It is a case that could impact thousands of gay couples in our state. Nancy Nixon, who is now 68, has her hearing scheduled for tomorrow before the state department of revenue board of appeals.

The hearing involves the estate of her late partner of 30 years, Jeanne Schwartz, who died in April of 2012 and a 15 percent tax on her estate that the state is trying to take.

“I came to realize I was gay in my late 20s,” Nixon said.  She and Schwartz met in Oregon, where they lived in the early 1980s.

“Jeanne and I started living together in 1981. We had 30 wonderful years. We had a really good time together, a lot of fun,” Nixon said.

“We moved back here to be near family in 1986 and had a house out in West Pennsboro where we lived for 25 years,” she added.

Schwartz worked for 20 years as the director of social services at Carlisle Hospital (now Carlisle Regional Medical Center). 

“We had friends, and people around us, that accepted us and we could be totally open with,” Nixon explained. 

When asked why they didn't get married in one of the states that recognize same-sex couples, Nixon said, “we were getting ready to do that and (with) Jeanne's illness (it) became too hard for her to travel.”

“We owned our property together, we had our house in joint ownership and our cars were in joint ownership, we had savings together,” Nixon said.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned parts of the Defense of Marriage Act which denied many federal benefits to same-sex couples, including inheritance rights – but this is a Pennsylvania tax case, not a federal tax case.

Spouses are exempt from the estate tax, except for the state tax, for same-sex couples.

“(It would be) $21,000 that I would have to pay,” Nixon said.

She has hope for her future and for other gay Pennsylvanians. 

“It's going to get better, to remember that it is going to get better and that is an anthem for today. Young people are still having a really hard time coming out in conservative areas like we are in,” she said. 

Nixon is proceeding with case as a common law marriage; however, common-law marriages stopped being recognized by the state in 2005. But for couples like Nixon and Schwartz, who were together before then, their marriage would be recognized if they were a heterosexual couple.

There won't be a ruling tomorrow, but when the ruling does come down, if it’s against her, Nixon vows to continue the struggle for tax equality. 
Woman takes fight for same-sex rights to court

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