If this was her husband she would (as far as I know) automatically squire the estate, tax free. She was engaged, and living with her, then eventually married for 45 years... They clearly aren't "just friends" , they might as well be strangers in the eyes of the federal government.
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She wouldn't necessarily inherit the estate tax free - it depends upon the size of the estate. However, if they were joined legally in a civil union or "marriage", the surviving partner would have claim on 50% or some portion of the estate, as their own personally owned property, so would pay tax on whatever amount of the remaining portion was above the amount exempted from estate taxation. That is most likely the actual issue at hand, and is likely what the case is pleading for - sort of like pleading for spousal rights based upon a common law marriage, although as I think I said, I am not familiar with the case itself.
Stuff like this is exactly why, although I (obviously) vehemently oppose homosexual marriage, I feel there should be a civil union available that is recognized by all states, that gives homosexual partners the same legal rights as heterosexual partners. While it is not necessary to condone homosexuality, and trust me, I don't, it is unfair, discriminatory, and downright immoral to punish homosexuals just for being homosexual.
As for whether it was done intentionally to establish a precedent, I wouldn't of course know. It is certainly possible...some people are strongly guided by principles and the desire to effect change...