Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall introduced legislation to amend the federal code to ensure all lawfully married same-sex couples will receive Social Security spousal benefits. Since the Supreme Court decision last June in Windsor v. U.S. striking down a key section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Obama Administration has proceeded in implementing the decision across the federal government.
While the Social Security Administration has moved forward on spousal benefits for people living in marriage states, as well as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicare, it has not yet addressed spousal retirement, spousal survivor, and lump sum death benefits for married couples living in states that do not allow same-sex couples to marry. Nor has it determined that those joined in civil unions and registered domestic partnerships are eligible for spousal benefits based on their ability to inherit from their spouses/partners without a will under state law. This leaves thousands of legally married gay and lesbian couples, most of whom are living on fixed incomes, without financial support they have earned and are entitled to by law.
Social Security remains one of the most successful, popular federal programs in the nation and serves about 56 million people, or about 1 in 6 Americans, annually. For many people, social security benefits have become a lifeline out of poverty — filling a financial gap created by disability, retirement, or death of a breadwinner. The amount lost by same-sex couples and their children in non-marriage equality states can be significant. On average, a full retirement age same-sex household with one wage-earner forfeits $675 monthly or $8,100 annually in lost spousal retirement benefits. A legally-unrecognized child of a deceased same-sex parent could forfeit as much $15,072 annually in survivor income.
Living Outside the Safety Net: LGBT Families and Social Security, a co-publication by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign, details how same-sex couples living in no-marriage equality states are affected by a lack of access to Social Security.
The Social Security and Marriage Equality Act would guarantee that all legally married same-sex couples are guaranteed access to social security benefit regardless of where they live. We are grateful to Sens. Patty Murray and Mark Udall for bringing attention to the essential protections provided by Social Security. Their strong, passionate and consistent leadership is moving us closer to an America where every citizen is treated equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.