July 9, 2015 at 8:00 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
DOJ announces full marriage benefits for gay couples
Loretta Lynch, gay news, Washington Blade

United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced full federal benefits for married same-sex couples. (Photo by ibtimes.com; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Obama administration is set to afford the full benefits of marriage to married gay couples — including Social Security and veterans spousal benefits — following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of gay nuptials nationwide, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Thursday.

In an exclusive statement to the Washington Blade, Lynch confirmed full federal benefits are on their way to married same-sex couples now that all 50 states have marriage equality.

“Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell that every couple has the same right to participate in the institution of marriage, whether the partners are of the same sex or opposite sexes, I directed Justice Department staff to work with the agencies to ensure that the ruling be given full effect across the federal government,” Lynch said. “Thanks to their leadership and the quick work of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, today I am proud to announce that the critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not give effect to the marriages of couples living in states that did not recognize those marriages, will now provide federal recognition for all marriages nationwide.”

Although no formal memoranda on this change yet exists, Lynch added agencies are working toward “providing guidance to implement this change in law.”

Following the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage, LGBT advocates and observers had assumed Social Security and veterans spousal benefits — which were previously denied to same-sex couples in states without marriage equality — would become available now that same-sex marriage was legal throughout the country, but the Obama administration hadn’t verified them until now.

Although the Obama administration has extended many federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples following the 2013 decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, the Justice Department determined it couldn’t afford certain Social Security and veterans spousal benefits to same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states. U.S. code for those benefits looks to the state of residence, not the state of celebration, to determine whether a couple is married.

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced benefits under its jurisdiction were on their way shortly after the more recent Supreme Court decision on marriage, but the Social Security Administration had yet to confirm a change. The announcement from Lynch verifies the legal basis is sound to extend veterans and Social Security benefits to married same-sex couples nationwide.

Lynch recalled after the DOMA decision, the Obama administration afforded many federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples “to the greatest extent possible under the law as it then stood,” but the ruling from the Supreme Court striking down all bans on same-sex marriage enables the federal government to finish the job.

“With the Supreme Court’s new ruling that the Constitution requires marriage equality, we have now taken the further step of ensuring that all federal benefits will be available equally to married couples in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Territories,” Lynch said. “The department will continue to work across the administration to fulfill our commitment to equal treatment for all Americans, including equal access to the benefits of marriage that the Obergefell decision guarantees.”

Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, praised Lynch for announcing the change, saying it would benefit LGBT veteran families everywhere.

“We applaud Attorney General Lynch in working to ensure all of our nation’s veterans gain access to the full range of federal benefits they have earned serving our great nation,” Broadway-Mack said. “Considering many of these veterans and their families have been waiting months, even years, for access to their earned benefits, we urge the Department of Veterans Affairs to move swiftly in approving their applications now that their marriages are finally recognized.”

Legislation remains pending that would update U.S. code to ensure federal benefits of marriage flow to couples regardless of where they live, but hasn’t passed either chamber of Congress. The Respect for Marriage Act would ensure access of marriage benefits across the board, while the more specifically tailored Charlie Morgan Act and the Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act would address the veterans benefits issue. The Social Security & Marriage Equality Act would handle Social Security benefits.

Prior to the Lynch announcement, the White House has said consistently it had no plans to change policy to ensure the flow of Social Security and veterans benefits to same-sex couples through administrative means. Lawsuits filed by Lambda Legal and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders sought to compel the Obama administration to afford those spousal benefits to same-sex couples, but remains pending in the federal judiciary.

Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, said the announcement from the Justice Department is “a promising and long sought development,” but more action is needed to ensure the flow of benefits to same-sex couples.

“We still await confirmation that the agencies will apply Obergefell’s constitutional pronouncement to people like our clients Kathy Murphy and David Williams, whose spouses died before they could see the day the Supreme Court ruled that their marriages must receive legal respect across America,” Sommer said. “Kathy and David and many others like them deserve the Social Security and other benefits they applied for but were denied because their home states refused to respect their marriages and their right to equal dignity. We hope that the SSA and VA will not make same-sex spouses fight for basic legal protections any longer.”

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

  • James Louis

    That means that you will be able to marry an elderly sick friend of the same sex and collect social security benefits after he dies as long as you are an adult.

  • James Louis

    It still will be a long time before the feds give same sex marriages federal benefits. It can be easily manipulated to benefit from someone’s death and keep federal funds flowing into the public.

  • GayEGO

    My lifetime partner of 53 years and I were married 11 years ago in Massachusetts. After SCOTUS

  • lnm3921

    As much as this and the recent marriage equality win in the SCOTUS may seem to indicate that our community has arrived and achieved acceptance, I was reminded today in other internet sites running this story how much hatred and intolerance we still face.

    AOL ran the story with a picture of a male couple kissing. Over 100 people approved of a comment that said the image of two men kissing is disgusting to them. The word “Puke” was used many times. One went so far as to say their insurance rates would go up due to AIDS. Others pretty much said that despite the right to marry, they still do not want to see same sex couples show affection or intimacy in public.

    What does this tell you? Stop being lulled into a false sense of security and wide acceptance. While a majority may seem supportive of the right to marry, you have to wonder how many of those people still expect gay couples to remain invisible.

    Watch your back before feeling you will be afforded the same respect a heterosexual couple receives when you are openly holding hands or kissing and holding each other. Even people that may not be obnoxious to your face, may well be back biting you including heterosexuals you think maybe accepting. Homophobic attitudes just don’t change abruptly. We still have a long way to go.

    And yes, I’m sure some of you may say you’ve never had an issue with it. I’d say you’ve been lucky. In my experience couples have faced anything from slurs to violence.

    • Max Andrew

      Does anyone here believed in God And or the Bible? If the answer is yes…then obey God and not humans…..all sex unions outside of marriage are called sinful by the Bible. I.e. sexual immorality such as formication.. adultery..paedophillia.. himosexuality…orgies….premarital sex..incest and bestiality…..humans were made male and female…. the first marriage is heterosexual…. all else is a perversion… sin…evil…abomination..unrighteousness…… May God have mercy for us all…Evil is now called Good in the mistaken name if rights.. freedoms… and equality… all so sinners need to repent… change their behaviour And return to God.

      • lnm3921

        What are you doing reading a gay news internet site? Believing in God doesn’t mean having to believe as you. There are many paths to God not just the fundamentalist one.

        Not all organized religion demonizes gay people such as the United Church of Christ that welcomes people as they are without condemnation and self-righteous judgment.

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