Up until a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the rights of gay and lesbian couples across the country varied based on the state in which a couple lived. In states like Georgia, two men and two women could not be married; even if they were legally married in another state, their union would not necessarily be recognized by other states.
This not only impacted a couple’s right to get married, but it also kept LGBT couples from accessing the benefits that opposite-sex married couples received like Social Security benefits. However, the Supreme Court issued a ruling last month stating that same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry. Gay and lesbian couples in Georgia should know that this will have an impact on their access to disability and survivor benefits through Social Security.
Before the ruling, same-sex marriages were not recognized in 13 states. Even if two men or two women were married in a state that recognized marriage there was no guarantee that they would still be considered legal spouses in other states. This meant there could be serious problems when trying to access benefits only available to legally married couples.
For instance, two women got married back in 2013. Unfortunately, one of the women passed away just nine months later. Her surviving partner did not qualify for benefits through Social Security because the couple actually lived in a state where their marriage was not considered legal.
The widow is still fighting to receive benefits and it is possible that the recent ruling could help her case, though that remains to be seen.
What readers should take away from this post is that as of the Supreme Court’s ruling, gay, lesbian and straight spouses are all considered the same in terms of eligibility for Social Security benefits as well as Supplemental Security Income payments. This will likely open up new opportunities for these couples who were previously unable to seek marital benefits through Social Security.
People who have questions about whether Social Security benefits can be pursued should take the time to discuss their options with an attorney familiar with the laws and the Social Security system.
Source: CNN Money, “She lost her wife to cancer and $1,224 a month to Social Security,” Katie Lobosco, June 26, 2015