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Boxer seeks full extension of Social Security benefits

Survivor benefits in question even with court ruling against DOMA

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Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is calling on Social Security to implement fully benefits for married gay couples (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is calling on Social Security to implement full benefits for married gay couples. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is calling on the Social Security Administration to provide survivor benefits for married same-sex couples wherever they move in the country in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

In a letter dated July 1, Boxer asks Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin to use “administrative authorities” to extend benefits to the fullest extent possible following the Supreme Court decision striking down Section 3 of DOMA.

“All federal agencies should endeavor to provide swift and equal access to programs and benefits for all same-sex couples, regardless of their state of residence, using existing administrative authorities,” Boxer said.

Social Security survivor benefits are among the benefits that are in question for legally married same-sex couples post-DOMA. Social Security law looks to the state where a couple lives, not where a couple is married. That means a gay couple that marries in New York but moves to Florida may not be eligible if they apply for those benefits there.

In the event that the Social Security Administration believes it can’t offer those benefits administratively, Boxer asks the agency to notify Congress so lawmakers can advance a legislative solution to the issue.

Boxer, one of 14 U.S. senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, said she’s spoken with same-sex couples and heard about the harm caused by withholding Social Security survivor benefits.

“I have met so many surviving spouses and family members of same-sex relationships who struggle needlessly after the passing of their family members,” Boxer writes. “Access to Social Security benefits can often times mean the difference between keeping your home and losing it, or feeding your children and watching them go hungry.”

In her letter, Boxer says she understands the Social Security Administration has already taken some action. The senator says she learned the agency “took immediate steps” to prepare for changes and issued “emergency instructions” to field offices directing them to accept applications from gay couples and hold them until further guidance.

Like Boxer, LGBT advocates have been calling on the Obama administration to interpret the ruling against DOMA broadly so married gay couples will have federal benefits no matter where they move in the country.

During his trip to Africa, President Obama seemed sympathetic to calls when responding to a question about DOMA implementation during a news conference.

“It’s my personal belief — but I’m speaking now as a president as opposed to as a lawyer — that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple,” Obama said. “But I’m speaking as a president, not a lawyer.”

After the DOMA ruling, Obama said he directed U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to work with Cabinet officials to prepare for implementing benefits for same-sex couples. Changes are expected to be made on a rolling basis as quickly as practicable.

Mark Hinkle, a Social Security spokesperson, noted the process Obama has set up in response to the Boxer letter.

“The president has directed the Attorney General to work with other members of his Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, and its implications for federal benefits and obligations – including benefits administered by this agency – is implemented swiftly and smoothly,” Hinkle said. “We look forward to working with the Department of Justice to do so.”

Hinkle added the Social Security Administration will respond directly to Boxer with regard to the letter.

In the event that some benefits still aren’t available even in the aftermath of the court ruling, one legislative solution that is available is the Respect for Marriage Act, which was introduced last week by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The “certainty provision” in the bill would ensure federal benefits continue to flow to married same-sex couples wherever they live in the United States.

The full letter from Boxer follows:

July 1, 2013

The Honorable Carolyn W. Colvin

Acting Commissioner

Social Security Administration

6401 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, MD 21235

Dear Acting Commissioner Colvin:

Until the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in last week’s historic United States v. Windsor ruling, federal law prevented the recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes of Social Security family and spousal benefits, resulting in the exclusion of millions of Americans from the same critical safety net programs that are made available to the families of heterosexual couples.

I have met so many surviving spouses and family members of same-sex relationships who struggle needlessly after the passing of their family members.  Access to Social Security benefits can often times mean the difference between keeping your home and losing it, or feeding your children and watching them go hungry.  Surviving spouses and children of same-sex marriages lose thousands of dollars in earned Social Security benefits every year because of the discriminatory policy mandated by the Defense of Marriage Act.

After last week’s Supreme Court ruling, I was pleased to learn that the Social Security Administration (SSA) took immediate steps to prepare for the changes that will be necessary to extend full federal benefits to all same-sex couples and their families.  The SSA should be applauded for issuing emergency instructions to all field offices directing them to accept applications from same-sex couples and hold them until specific instructions on how the Court’s decision will be implemented are determined.

I was also encouraged by President Obama’s comments indicating that he believes all legally-married same-sex couples should have access to the same benefits, regardless of where they chose to live.

All federal agencies should endeavor to provide swift and equal access to programs and benefits for all same-sex couples, regardless of their state of residence, using existing administrative authorities.  In instances where remedies are not available through executive action and will instead require specific changes to existing law, I urge you to notify Congress immediately so that the legislative process to address these issues can begin.

While I understand the SSA’s review of its legal authorities regarding same-sex couples must be comprehensive and thorough, I encourage you to work as expeditiously as possible for the millions of Americans who await your decisions.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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Politics

Out Vermont state senator wins Democratic primary race

Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress

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Screenshot via Becca Balint for Congress

The Green Mountain State’s state Senate president pro tempore has won the Democratic nomination for the state’s at-large congressional seat, the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Becca Balin is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress if elected in November. Vermont is the only state that has never had a female member of its congressional delegation.

The VTDigger, a statewide news website, reported; “Balint, 53, is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president. The former middle school teacher and stay-at-home mother won her first political contest in a race for her southeastern Vermont Senate seat in 2014

She rose quickly through the ranks of the Democrat-controlled chamber, becoming majority leader in 2017, at the start of her second term. Four years later, in 2021, she was elected pro tem — the top position in the Senate.”

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Lindsey Graham: Same-sex marriage should be left to the states

Republican senator says issue a distraction from inflation

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Sen. Lindsey Graham said he still thinks the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to the states. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, said Sunday he still thinks the issue of gay nuptials should be left to the states.

Graham made the remarks during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash in a rare televised bipartisan debate with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) as the Senate was in the middle of voting on amendments for the Inflation Reduction Act.

When discussing the 6-3 conservative majority of the Supreme Court, Graham said consistent with the recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade justices could overturn other precedents, such as the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage.

Asked point blank if he was saying it should be overturned, Graham said “no, I’m saying that I don’t think it’s going to be overturned.” Graham, however, had an infection his voice, suggesting same-sex marriage could be undone.

“Nor should it be?” asked Bash.

“Well, that would be up to the court,” he responded, then added: “I think states should decide the issue of marriage, and states should be decide the issue of abortion.”

When Bash brought up another case, Loving v. Virginia, the 1965 case that overturned states bans on interracial marriage, and asked if that should be revisited as well, Graham replied, “no.”

Graham quickly moved on to tamp down any expectation the would address the issue of same-sex marriage, saying fears the court would revisit the issue are unfounded and meant as a distraction from issues such as inflation.

“But if you’re going to ask me to have the federal government take over defining marriage, I’m going to say no,” Graham added.

Graham’s remarks are consistent with what he told the Washington Blade in 2015 when asked about same-sex marriage as the issue was being adjudicated by the Supreme Court. However, they contrast to his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment that was pending before Congress during the Bush administration and would have made a ban on same-sex marriage nationwide part of the U.S. Constitution. Graham was not asked about his views on now defunct idea of an amendment during the CNN interview.

h/t The Independent

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