The United States Supreme Court, in United States v. Windsor, struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal purposes as the union between a man and a woman, finding that it violates equal protection and federalism principles.
There are currently an estimated 114,000 legally married same-sex couples in the U.S. Another roughly 535,000 same-sex couples now live in shared households.
Extending Social Security benefits to same-sex couples is a major consequence of the U.S. Supreme Court decision. There are more than 1,000 benefits now enjoyed by heterosexual married couples and their children; the decision may result in these benefits becoming available to same-sex claimants.
Under the Social Security law, one must be married one year to get spousal benefits and nine months to get survivor benefits. If there is a child below age 16, spousal benefits are available regardless of age.
Equal access to Social Security benefits will in all likelihood be extended to couples who live in the 14 jurisdictions where same-sex marriage already is legal: California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Also, because District of Columbia laws are applicable to citizens living overseas, same-sex U.S. couples living outside the country should be able to claim Social Security benefits.
Current Status of Same Sex Couples
Social Security’s Administrative Law Judges have been instructed to cancel any scheduled hearing dealing with this issue and to not make a decision in any case that has already been heard. The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are currently interpreting the decision.
I will update this blog when further direction is issued by the OGC and the DOJ.
Social Security law is complex; at Hoffman, Larin and Agnetti, PA we offer a free consultation so that you can learn your rights. There are no fees for representation before the Social Security Administration in disability claims, unless we win. We have offices throughout south Florida; in Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties for your convenience.