The Social Security and Marriage Equality Act (SAME)

Senators Udall (D-Colo) and Murray (D-Wash) have proposed the Social Security and Marriage Equality Act (SAME), which would essentially allow for the processing of Social Security spousal retirement, spousal survivorship and death benefits for same-sex spouses who are legally married but do not live in a state that recognizes their marriage.  Since the fall of DOMA’s Section III, many federal benefits have been extended to same-sex married couples, regardless of whether the state in which the couple actually resides recognizes their marriage. Thus, a couple married in New York, where same-sex marriage is available, but living in Colorado would still be eligible for all federal benefits, protections and responsiblity.

An exception to this has been certain Social Security benefits, including spousal retirement, survivorship and death benefits.  As of now, these Social Security claims are available and being processed for same-sex married couples who also reside in states that recognize their marriage.  However, for those couples who were married in one state but live in a state that does not have marriage equality, like Colorado, those claims have been placed on hold.  The holdup is purportedly based upon a regulation pertaining to Social Security claims that provides a marriage is valid for Social Security purposes “if the courts of the State in which such insured individual is domiciled … would find that such applicant and such insured individual were validly married.”

Senators Udall and Murray’s proposed legislation would amend the federal law so as to ensure recognition for purposes of Social Security benefits of all lawfully married same-sex couples, even if they live in one of the 33 states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. As Senator Murray explained, “Your zip code should not determine whether or not your family will have the means to survive after the death of a spouse.”

There are a limited number of days left in the current federal legislative session. Thus, it is highly unlikely that this bill will be brought up for vote in one or both houses of Congress this year.

To read SAME in its entirety, go here.

Social Security Changes Affecting the LGBT Community

o-SOCIAL-SECURITY-TAXES-facebookThe Social Security Administration (SSA) has made two announcements this year that affect the LGBT community.

First, the SSA announced it was changing its policy with regard to the ability of transgender individuals to receive benefits through their spouses.  Prior to yesterday’s announcement, any marriage-based claims filed by or involving a transgender individual was referred to the Regional Chief Counsel for a legal opinion, and were often denied.  Under the new policy, most claims will be processed in a straightforward manner, without the need for a legal opinion.  Presumably, this means most claims of this nature will not be summarily denied.

Lambda Legal, who had been advocating for this change on behalf of a 92-year-old transgender individual (and veteran) after the SSA denied her survivor benefits claim following the death of her husband, hailed the policy change, explaining, “This is a critical development for all married transgender people, but is especially important for transgender older adults, who rely on the safety net of Social Security benefits.”  To read more about the case that helped prompt this change, go here.

Second, the SSA announced in January that it would begin considering same-sex marriages when processing Social Security Supplemental Income claims.  SSI is a program based on financial need, and the SSA will now consider the income and resources of the recipient and his or her same-sex spouse when determining eligibility and monthly payment.  To read more about this policy change, go here.