Married same-sex couples have started to receive Social Security benefits following the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, according to an announcement from the agency.
In a statement on Friday, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin announced that her agency is now processing “some” retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples in addition to “paying benefits where they are due.”
The change is attributed to the court decision against DOMA, which Colvin said helps “to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
While the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA enables federal benefits, such as Social Security survivor’s benefits, to flow to married same-sex couples, not all questions on these benefits are answered. It’s unclear whether married gay couples can apply for benefits if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage because Social Security law looks to the state of residence, not the place of celebration, to determine whether a couple is married.
Colvin suggested the Social Security Administration is examining this issue with the Justice Department and will provide additional information at a later time.
“We continue to work closely with the Department of Justice,” Colvin said. “In the coming weeks and months, we will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the legal issues to ensure that our policy is legally sound and clear.”
Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, praised the agency for making the initial change and looks forward to seeing how additional issues will be resolved.
“It is encouraging that Social Security is taking steps to afford benefits to married couples that should be treated like anyone else,” Cole-Schwartz said. “We look forward to hearing further details from the administration on how they plan to make the greatest number of benefits available to the greatest number of people.”
In the meantime, the Social Security Administration is encouraging gay couples to apply for benefits through the agency if these couples believe they’re eligible.
“I encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits,” Colvin said. “We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized.”
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