Social Security Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses
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In a historic turnaround, the SSA now processes spousal claims from same-sex marriages. While the agency initially placed great weight on whether a same-sex marriage was recognized as valid in the state where it took place, it has since broadened the policy and recognizes same-sex marriages if the initial claim for benefits was filed on or after June 26, 2015, or pending a final determination at that time — regardless of the state where the marriage occurred. (All U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages as legally valid, although states reached that position on different dates.)
While all states now recognize same-sex marriage, they do not all agree on the legal definition of a marriage, a fact that potentially applies both to unions of a man and a woman, as well as unions of the same gender. The SSA wants to know whether — under the law of the state where the worker lives — the worker’s partner would be allowed to inherit a legal spouse’s share of the worker’s property if the worker died without a will. If the answer is yes, Social Security considers the couple (same sex or heterosexual) to be married, both for claims related to Social Security and for Medicare. If the answer is no, it does not.
Social Security lifted the longtime barrier on payments to spouses in same-sex marriages after the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Until then, the agency had said the 1996 law prevented it from recognizing such marriages in allocating benefits. Implementing the law for Social Security has raised various issues. As of this writing, you can find the technical rules governing Social Security policy on same-sex marriage by going to the SSA website.