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DOJ, Social Security drop appeal to block same-sex survivor benefits

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The U.S. Department of Justice and the Social Security Administration on Monday dropped their appeal of rulings that said same-sex spouses and partners get access to social security survivor’s benefits.

Lambda Legal, which represented the plaintiffs in two class action lawsuits on the matter, said the decision affects individuals who were unable to meet the requirement for survivor’s benefits that they be married for a minimum of nine months because of discriminatory marriage laws.

The lawsuits were Ely v. Saul, where surviving same-sex spouses who married their loved ones but were prevented from being married for nine months, and Thornton v. Saul, for surviving same-sex partners who were prevented from marrying their loved ones before marriage equality. Both lawsuits were filed in 2018. Last year, federal district courts in Arizona and Washington struck down these individuals’ exclusion from benefits as unconstitutional.

“We commend the Biden administration for respecting the constitutional rights of same-sex couples and choosing the right side of history. No one should continue to pay the price for past discrimination. Today’s development ensures that the door stays open for seniors who were wrongly locked out from critical benefits because of discriminatory laws,” said Lambda Legal Counsel Peter 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.” 

“I am relieved that my 27-year relationship with Margie will finally be respected by the government and that we will not be treated as legal strangers even in death,” said plaintiff Helen Thornton. “Marriage equality came too late for many of us, but it was not too late to fix this problem involving survivor’s benefits. ”

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