March 17, 2015 at 11:31 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Social Security fix for gay couples reintroduced in Congress
Patty Murray, Washington, Democratic Party, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has reintroduced the Social Security & Marriage Equality Act. (Photo public domain)

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) reintroduced legislation in Congress on Tuesday to ensure married same-sex couples would be eligible for spousal Social Security benefits across the nation.

The Social Security & Marriage Equality Act, which was first introduced last year, would amend language in U.S. code that looks to the state of residence, not the state of celebration, to determine whether a couple is married for the purposes for certain Social Security benefits.

Even after the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration said it couldn’t afford certain Social Security spousal benefits — including spousal and lump-sum death benefits — to married same-sex couples applying in non-marriage equality states because of the statutory framework.

In a statement, Murray said she’s re-introducing the SAME Act in the Senate to ensure “all legally married same-sex couples deserve equal treatment under the law, regardless of their zip code.”

“Where you live should not determine whether your family is economically secure following the death of a spouse, and it shouldn’t prevent your family from receiving the benefits you have earned,” Murray said. “The SAME Act would help ensure equality under federal law does not end at state lines.”

Kind, who came out in favor of marriage equality in 2013, said he’s leading to bill in the House to ensure all married couples can “take comfort” in knowing their unions will be respected under federal law.

“Social Security spousal benefits offer economic security and peace of mind,” Kind said. “Every married couple who contributes to the social security system should enjoy the same benefits. This is about basic fairness and I’m proud to help lead this bipartisan effort to ensure equality for every American citizen.”

An original co-sponsor of the legislation in the Senate is Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian to serve to serve in the U.S. Senate. The five original co-sponsors in the Senate are all Democrats.

“For the last six months, all Wisconsinites have fully enjoyed the benefit of marriage equality,” Baldwin said in a statement. “Unfortunately legally married same-sex couples in Wisconsin face uncertainty if moving to a state where their marriage is not recognized.”

In the House, the legislation has 40 co-sponsors, including two Republicans: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.).

The legislation is along the lines of language found in President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal to Congress, which would amend the Social Security Act to ensure those benefits for married same-sex couples.

The bill is introduced just months before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver by the end of June a ruling on the issue of marriage equality nationwide. A ruling guaranteeing the right for same-sex couples to marry across the country would seem to make the legislation irrelevant.

Organizations that support the bill are the Human Rights Campaign, the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, Social Security Works, the National LGBTQ Task Force, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, OWL-The Voice of Women 40+, the Pride Foundation and the Greater Seattle Business Association.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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