January 21, 2022

More same-sex couples may be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits.

“I can finally breathe a sigh of relief that these benefits are now finally secure,” Mr Ely said in a statement, “not just for me, but for everyone else who was in this together.”

The protection these cases provide could also help people like Jim Obergefell, who was married for just three months. In 2015, he stood at the center of the monumental Supreme Court make a statementObergefell v. Hodges — who declared that the Constitution entitled to gay marriage, which allowed couples to get married across the country, even if their states had banned it. That followed a 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor, in which the court ruled that same-sex couples entitlement to federal benefits.

Mr Obergefell, 55, said he would consider applying for survivor benefits when he reaches the eligible age to apply because his wife, John Arthur – who died of ALS in 2013 – may have earned slightly more than he did. “I still remember the sting of being denied the minimum death benefit when John died,” he said, referring to Social Security’s one-time flat-rate death benefit of $255. “Not because I needed the money, but because it was a slap in the face to be told I wasn’t a valid surviving spouse.”

Surviving spouses or partners in these situations will have to prove to the Social Security Administration that they would have been married had the laws allowed it, legal experts said. The authority will also usually have to conclude that the marriage would have lasted at least nine months at the time of the partner’s death.

“It’s kind of a necessary consequence of wiping out the unconstitutional restrictions on marriage that’s been around for so long,” he said. Mary L. Bonauto, civil rights director at interest group GLAD. “This kind of equates to the kind of jobs that federal agencies sometimes have to do to get it right — they sometimes have to look at the individual circumstances, and this is one that’s really crying out for it.”

Legal experts said the agency could ask the survivor about several issues. That could be whether they would have married if the laws hadn’t banned same-sex unions, their living situation, and whether they relied on each other for financial support. The agency may also ask if they are named in each other’s wills, joint insurance policies, or if they are registered as domestic partners.

As long as a deceased person has worked long enough, widows and widowers can generally survivor benefits already at the age of 60. (Survivors with disabilities may be eligible at age 50.) Survivors can collect on their partner income record if it exceeds their own retirement or disability benefits – or they can collect the benefits as a way to defer their own benefits, which they can collect later when they are worth more.

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