Social Security allowing benefits to survivors of same-sex couples who couldn’t marry


The Social Security Administration is now allowing same-sex couples who weren’t able to marry because of state laws to apply for survivor benefits.

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the SSA is now issuing survivor benefits to people who had previously been unable to qualify, either because one partner passed way before marriage equality or died within nine months of finally being allowed to marry.

The SSA actually made the policy change in October 2021. In two notices, the administration published notices about the two lawsuits that were filed over the denial of benefits: Thornton v. Commissioner of Social Security and Ely V. Saul.

Thorton was a class action filed by Lambda Legal for Helen Thornton, whose partner died of ovarian cancer just before marriage equality was legalized in their state of Washington. Ely was filed by Lambda Legal for people who were able to marry but lost their partner soon after.

Lambda Legal has published a FAQ giving guidance on applying for Social Security survivor benefits for those who were barred from getting married.

Anyone whose claims have been or would otherwise be denied because they were prevented from being married to their partners at the time of the partners’ death by anti-marriage equality laws can apply for benefits. Previously, claims had to be submitted before Nov. 25, 2020. Now as long as you were prevented from marrying your partner by the law, you can apply for benefits.

To see if you qualify, call Social Security at (800) 772-1213 or look up the phone number for your local SSA field office to request a telephone appointment to be sure your claim is being considered (or reconsidered) pursuant to the Thornton ruling.

The SSA will ask questions to determine if you were prevented from marrying by state law and some details about the relationship, such as if those in the relationship were financially dependent on each other, were in a long-term committed relationship or owned property together among others. Affadavits about the relationship and records that show commitment such as domestic partnership certificates, joint property ownership or leases, powers of attorney and joint insurance policies.

The full FAQ from Lambda Legal is available for download here.



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