The Social Security agency has announced it will be expanding its recognition of same-sex married couples, yet another example of how the administration is continuing to apply the Supreme Court’s landmark anti-DOMA ruling.
On December 16, the Social Security Administration announced that it will now be able to process certain claims made by same-sex married partners. An administration representative explained in a statement:
“I am pleased to announce that, effective today, Social Security is processing some widow’s and widower’s claims by surviving members of same-sex marriages and paying benefits where they are due. In addition, we are able to pay some one-time lump sum death benefit claims to surviving same-sex spouses. As I stated shortly after the Supreme Court decision on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, our goal is to treat all Americans with dignity and respect.”
In the summer of 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s Section 3, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. For same-sex married couples, this was a game changer. It opened up some of the 1,100 and more federal benefits that had previously been reserved for heterosexual married couples.
The Social Security announcement is a direct reference to that Supreme Court case, known as Windsor v United States, as it deals with a similar issue to that which plaintiff Edith Windsor faced following the death of her wife Thea Spire: that she was denied survivorship recognition.
This likely won’t be the end of the administration’s work, with the statement highlighting that this is an ongoing process that will continue to be assessed and improved upon:
“We ask for continued patience from the public as we work closely with the Department of Justice to develop policies that are legally sound so we can process claims. If you believe you may be eligible for Social Security, I encourage you to apply now to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized.”
To find out more about same-sex partnership rights in terms of social security access, you can find out more here.
The social security announcement is one in a number of recent important steps for same-sex marriage recognition.
Another important area of change has also occurred in how individual states will process recognition for married same-sex partners in the military. You may remember that in October Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered National Guard chiefs throughout the United States to begin providing military IDs for the same-sex partners of military members.
At the time, some National Guards announced they would not process spousal recognition for military same-sex married partners, citing states’ bans on same-sex marriage and saying that the state law took precedent over the federal DOMA ruling. Hagel reacted defiantly to this pushback, saying that in terms of processing military identification and benefits, all states should follow the wider military’s lead. Oklahoma’s administration even went as far as stopping processing all military family IDs so that it would not have to recognize same-sex marriages.
Now, Hagel has announced that all states will process military IDs for same-sex married partners:
Following consultations between the National Guard Bureau and the adjutants general of the states, all eligible service members, dependents and retirees – including same-sex spouses – are now able to obtain ID cards in every state. All military spouses and families sacrifice on behalf of our country. They deserve our respect and the benefits they are entitled to under the law. All of DoD is committed to pursuing equal opportunities for all who serve this nation, and I will continue to work to ensure our men and women in uniform as well as their families have full and equal access to the benefits they deserve.
These small advancements are important ones. They do however speak to the inequality and unequal treatment that same-sex couples continue to face, something that will only be remedied when all states recognize same-sex marriage.
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