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Same-sex marriage survivors may see change to Social Security Act

Same-sex couples in California may be thrilled to learn about a proposed change related to Social Security spousal benefits included in President Obama's 2016 budget. If approved by Congress, spouses in a same-sex marriage will be eligible for the same benefits enjoyed by heterosexual spouses, regardless of their state of residence. While the aim of LGBT advocates is for total marriage equality across all states, they may see this as a positive step.

The Obama administration was sued by a widow of a same-sex marriage last year after her partner passed away in 2012. Their marriage took place in 2010 in a state where such marriages are legal. They subsequently relocated to a state that does not recognize their marriage, and when one spouse died, the widow was denied social security benefits. Her survivor benefits claim was filed following the  U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the federal law banning same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.

The widow's lawsuit claimed that the survivor benefits were vital and would allow her to continue living with dignity. The claimed benefits were the same as would be paid to heterosexual survivors. However, the Social Security Administration rejected her claim, stating that the benefits were only available for same-sex survivors in the states where such marriages are recognized.

While the wheels toward total equality are slowly turning, same-sex marriage couples in other states who were married in California may soon be eligible for Social Security spousal benefits. Couples with concerns and questions about federal protections may want to consult with an experienced family law attorney. Such guidance may assist couples in avoiding stumbling blocks related to the current laws of the different states and how they may affect them.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Obama Budget Extends Social Security Benefits To All Married Same-Sex Couples", Amanda Terkel, Feb. 2, 2015

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