Nov 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Same-sex partners now able to access Social Security survivors benefits

Photo of a silhouetted person waving a rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court building
Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Same-sex partners and spouses will now have access to Social Security survivors benefits they were previously denied due to now-defunct bans on gay marriage.

Why it matters: In the past, surviving partners who had been barred from legally marrying were ineligible to receive benefits. Couples who were able to marry could only successfully apply for benefits if they were married for at least nine months, even if that wasn't possible due to previous bans on marriage.

Context: In 2018, LGBTQ rights group Lambda Legal filed two lawsuits against the Social Security Administration (SSA) over the decrees.

  • Federal district courts in Arizona and Washington ruled last year that excluding surviving partners from benefits in this capacity is unconstitutional.
  • The Trump administration appealed in both cases, which were pending when President Biden took office.
  • The Justice Department and Social Security Administration announced Monday that they dismissed the appeals.

What they're saying: "The relief of today’s action by the federal government is almost palpable," Lambda Legal senior counsel Karen Loewy said in a statement.

  • "For decades, same-sex couples paid into Social Security, just like different-sex couples. The difference was, only one group always had the freedom to marry, leading to gross inequalities that continued to linger."
  • "No one should continue to pay the price for past discrimination," added Lambda Legal counsel Peter Renn. "This [is] a historic development with immense implications: survivors benefits are now equally available to everyone, including potentially thousands of same-sex partners who could not marry their loved ones and may have thought it was futile to apply."
  • SSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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