More Same-Sex Surviving Partners Could Qualify for Social Security Survivors Benefits

by HRC Staff

For decades, same-sex couples, like different-sex couples, paid into Social Security but did not receive equal access to benefits due to discriminatory marriage equality bans. Because of those laws, in the event of a partner's death, many surviving same-sex partners and spouses did not qualify for Social Security survivors benefits. Recently, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that more same-sex partners and spouses are now eligible to receive survivors benefits.

Social Security survivors benefits are paid to surviving spouses and dependents of eligible workers. Before the Obergefell v. Hodges decision on June 26, 2015, same-sex couples did not have the right to marry nationwide and, in turn, were not entitled to survivors benefits. In addition, some same-sex spouses did not meet requirements related length of marriage as a result of the discriminatory laws. With the legal victories in Ely v. Saul and Thorton v. Commissioner of Social Security, surviving same-sex partners and spouses may now qualify for survivors benefits based on their partner’s earning record.

The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) has released a short video and fact sheet, “Survivor Benefits for Same-Sex Partners and Spouses,” informing the LGBTQ+ community about new rights related to Social Security survivors benefits. The fact sheet outlines who may be entitled to benefits, how the SSA will decide eligibility, and how to apply.

According to the SSA, you may qualify for survivors benefits if:

  • You would have been married at the time of your partner’s death if state laws hadn’t prevented you from doing so; or,

  • You would have been married longer if not for state laws that prevented you from marrying earlier

If you or someone you know may be entitled to benefits, contact the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or your local Social Security office. More information on same-sex survivor benefits and related topics can be found on the SSA webpage dedicated to LGBTQ+ issues,

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