Metro Weekly

Lawmakers move to extend Social Security benefits to same-sex couples

Patty Murray - Credit: Department of Labor
Patty Murray – Credit: Department of Labor

Legislation that would ensure all legally married same-sex couples have access to Social Security benefits, regardless of whether they live in a marriage-equality state, was reintroduced in Congress Tuesday.

Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) reintroduced the Social Security and Marriage Equality (SAME) Act in the Senate and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.) reintroduced the bill in the House of Representatives. The proposed legislation would amend title II of the Social Security Act to eliminate the requirement that married same-sex couples live in a state that recognizes their marriage in order to be eligible for Social Security benefits.

“All legally married same-sex couples deserve equal treatment under the law, regardless of their zip code,” Murray said in a statement. “Where you live should not determine whether your family is economically secure following the death of a spouse, and it shouldn’t prevent your family from receiving the benefits you have earned. The SAME Act would help ensure equality under federal law does not end at state lines.”

While numerous agencies and departments across the federal government have moved to broadly implement the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, the Social Security Administration has been limited in its implementation. Due to the Obama administration’s legal interpretation of the “place of domicile” rule, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been prohibited from adopting a place of celebration rule for certain programs and must instead confer benefits based on the laws of the state where a married same-sex couple lives.

The bill has six cosponsors in the Senate and 41 in the House, including two Republican cosponsors: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, both of Florida. The bill has previously seen little movement and will likely face many of the same challenges in a Republican-controlled congress.

The bill’s reintroduction comes after President Barack Obama proposed last month a similar fix in his budget for fiscal year 2016. Although Murray praised that proposal at the time, she told Metro Weekly she would still reintroduce the SAME Act. The bill’s reintroduction comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage in April, with a ruling expected by the end of June.

“For the last six months, all Wisconsinites have fully enjoyed the benefit of marriage equality. Unfortunately legally married same-sex couples in Wisconsin face uncertainty if moving to a state where their marriage is not recognized,” Baldwin said in a statement. “The SAME Act will provide fairness and equality for legally married same-sex couples under the Social Security Act, regardless of where they live. While I am hopeful the Supreme Court will soon remove the necessity of such measures, I am proud to join this effort to build on our nation’s founding belief that all Americans are created free and equal under the law.”

“No matter where in America a married couple decides to live, they should take comfort in knowing that their union will be treated equally under the law,” added Kind.

Last week, the Social Security Administration was slapped with a class action lawsuit following allegations the agency discriminated against married same-sex couples. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Justice in Aging and the D.C. law firm of Foley Hoag filed the lawsuit on behalf of recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) who are married to someone of the same sex in or before June 2013, when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Windsor.

The lawsuit states that the Social Security Administration should have recognized the marriages of the plaintiffs after the Windsor decision, but failed to do so, treating them as unmarried for a year or more after the decision by the Supreme Court. Although the Social Security Administration has recently begun to treat married same-sex couples as married for purposed of calculating their SSI benefits, SSI recipients are now being targeted by the agency for recoupment of overpayments “cause by the government’s own unlawful actions.”

Social Security and Marriage Equality (SAME) Act

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