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Are Social Security Benefits available to same-sex married couples?

The Social Security Administration must recognize same-sex marriages when determining marital status for Title II and Medicare benefits, thanks to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Windsor. This means that spouses of same-sex marriages are entitled to the same Title II social security and Medicare benefits as their heterosexual counterparts.

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Despite the mandate, the Social Security benefits do not extend to all same-sex married couples throughout the country because of conflicting federal and state laws. Unfortunately, Title II uses very specific language that United States v. Windsor did not overturn.

According to Windsor, the federal government must extend benefits to couples whose marriages are legally recognized in the state in which they live, but it cannot provide benefits if the state does not recognize same-sex marriage. This means if a same-sex married couple are domiciled in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, they will not have access to the same Social Security benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. This is an inequality that must be resolved.

Since there is a difference of law in many of the states, the SSA must review the applications of same-sex married couples to determine their marital status in light of the laws of the state of the couple’s domicile. To aid in the applications of same-sex married couples, the SSA recently released a Programs Operations Manual System (GN 00210.000 Windsor Same-Sex Marriage Claims), called the Windsor instructions. These instructions are intended to guide the administration in making such determinations.

Since the United States v. Windsor decision on June 26, 2013, the SSA has been processing claims for same-sex married couple spouses, and all claims that are filed on or after that date, or that were pending final determination at the time of the decision, will be subject to the Windsor instructions.

By Eric J. Einhart, Esq. – Guest Blogger

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