Same-Sex Couples Can Now Claim Fully Equal Social Security Benefits

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday November 7, 2021
Originally published on November 7, 2021

With the end to a Trump-era appeal in the courts, same-sex couples can now claim fully equal Social Security survivors benefits, Axois reports.

"Previously, the surviving spouse or partner was eligible only if the couple had been married for nine months, although earlier bans on same-sex marriage made that time frame impossible to meet" in some cases, NPR detailed.

"Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ rights group, filed a pair of class action lawsuits on behalf of two couples in 2018 seeking to overturn the requirement," NPR recalled.

The change is the result of the Social Security Administration and the Justice Department dropping an appeal brought by the Trump administration after court decisions affirmed the rights of same-sex families. The two governmental entities announced the decision on Nov. 1.

Lamba Legal responded to the move in a statement, with Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn saying, "No one should continue to pay the price for past discrimination."

Added Renn: "This a historic development with immense implications: Survivor's 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."

"For decades, same-sex couples paid into social security, just like different-sex couples," noted Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Seniors Strategist Karen Loewy. "The difference was, only one group always had the freedom to marry, leading to gross inequalities that continued to linger.

"Today, that differential and discriminatory treatment conclusively ends, and surviving same-sex partners and spouses can securely access the benefits that they are owed and that can be essential to their continued health and safety."

While some survivors were denied benefits "even though they legalized their unions as soon as they were eligible," The New York Times explained, others "lost their partners before they were able to marry at all."

The fact that the Trump-era appeals were dropped now means "both groups of survivors... will have access to benefits," the Times noted.

Text at the Social Security Administration website specifies that the agency now recognizes "same-sex couples' marriages in all states, and some non-marital legal relationships (such as some civil unions and domestic partnerships), for purposes of determining entitlement to Social Security benefits, Medicare entitlement, and eligibility and payment amount for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.