Metro Weekly

Fourth LGBTQ widower sues Social Security over denial of survivor benefits

Frederick Colosimo was only able to be married for seven months prior to his husband's death

Harvey Lucas (left) and Frederick Colosimo – Photo: Lambda Legal.

A fourth LGBTQ widower is suing the Social Security Administration for denying him spousal benefits because he was not married long enough prior to his partner’s death — even though it’s the state of North Carolina’s fault that he wasn’t able to marry sooner.

Frederick Colosimo, 75, is arguing that North Carolina’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage prevented him and his husband, Harvey Lucas, from marrying, denying them the chance to be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits because they were not married for the requisite nine-month probationary period.

Colosimo and Lucas were in a 43-year committed relationship from 1971 to 2014, but were never allowed to marry in their home state.

Lucas was diagnosed with heart disease in 2004, and Colosimo took early retirement to become his full-time caregiver.

After New Jersey legalized same-sex marriage following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning part of the Defense of Marriage Act, the couple traveled to the state and married in November 2013. Unfortunately, Lucas only lived for seven more months before passing away due to cancer.

Colosimo has since hired Lambda Legal as counsel while he sues the Social Security Administration for denying him the chance to qualify for survivor benefits.

In the lawsuit, filed in the Western District of North Carolina, he argues that the nine-month marriage requirement to be eligible for survivor benefits is unconstitutional in states where marriage bans previously barred same-sex couples from marrying.

“Yet again, we go to court to get justice for same-sex spouses and partners who are unable to access Social Security survivor benefits because discriminatory marriage bans prevented them from marrying, and being married long enough, to meet Social Security’s nine-month requirement,” Lambda Legal Counsel Tara Borelli  said in a statement. “Even though the bans have been struck down and same-sex couples today are able to marry nationwide, the harms endure.”

Lambda Legal is currently representing three other widowers whose spouses or partners died before the couple could marry or meet the 9-month requirement to be considered eligible for survivor benefits.

Those lawsuits, filed in Washington State, Arizona, and New Mexico, all underscore a unique problem facing only same-sex couples who were previously barred from marrying.

As such, the widowers argue, Social Security is unfairly discriminating against them by refusing to acknowledge their relationship — and, in many instances, the role of caregiver that the surviving spouse took on prior to their partner’s death.

“Same-sex couples who weren’t able to marry for most of their relationship faced discrimination throughout their lives, and now surviving spouses like Fred face it all over again, after their loved one has died,” Borelli added. “These benefits are no less essential to the financial security of surviving same-sex spouses in their retirement years than to heterosexual surviving spouses.”

“Harvey was my love, my balance, and my life,” Colosimo said in a statement. “Losing Harvey was hard enough.  But having Social Security tell me I don’t qualify for Harvey’s benefits because we were blocked from marrying feels like adding insult to injury.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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