Victory! SSA Grants Spousal Benefits to Texas Widow in Lambda Legal Case

2016-03-08T11:54:00+00:00March 8th, 2016|News Archives 2016|

March 8, 2016

News Release

Today Lambda Legal and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare announced the resolution of a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration (SSA) brought on behalf of Kathy Murphy, a Texas widow denied spousal benefits after the death of her wife, and the National Committee. 

“The basic tenets of the Social Security program are that if you contribute to the system throughout your working life, you and your family will receive those earned benefits in retirement, death or disability. We are pleased that the Social Security Administration now has instructions for its staff on how to right a wrong for thousands of same-sex spouses who have been denied benefits because their home states refused to recognize their marriages.”…Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

“The Social Security Administration has finally adjusted Kathy’s monthly SSA benefit to recognize the reality that she was married to her wife Sara and is a widow entitled to the same treatment as other survivors.  We are also pleased to announce that the SSA has finally updated its instructions to its staff in accordance with the historic Obergefell v. Hodges ruling last June. SSA has also issued other guidance to staff to manage claims from the LGBT community. With this good news, including SSA’s long-awaited changes to its policies to conform to Obergefell, we are hopeful that LGBT widows, widowers and retirees, wherever they live, will be able to receive the Social Security spousal benefits to which they are entitled.”…Susan Sommer, National Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal

For more than 30 years, Texas residents Kathy Murphy, 62, and Sara Barker shared their lives together.  Three decades after they first met, Kathy and Sara legally married in Massachusetts in 2010.  Like other married couples, they hoped to grow old together and to live out their retirement years in safety, security and dignity.  Tragically, Sara lost her battle with cancer in March 2012 at age 62, leaving Kathy a widow. Because the couple lived in Texas, which refused to recognize their marriage at the time of Sara’s death, SSA also wouldn’t recognize the marriage, denying Kathy spousal survivor’s benefits earned by Sara over a lifetime of work.

“Sara and I were blessed with nearly 32 years together. We worked hard to close all the gaps before she died, and I’m very relieved that the federal government is finally doing its part. The Social Security benefits I will receive will ensure that I can take care of the home that Sara and I shared together,” Kathy said. 

In addition to now providing Kathy monthly spousal benefits as it would any other surviving spouse, SSA has updated its instructions to staff on processing the claims of members of the LGBT community.  These instructions include important steps to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples from the date of their marriages, regardless of the state where the couple lived. 

Read the SSA’s instructions to staff on processing claims for members of the LGBT community: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0200210000

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

The National Committee, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization acts in the interests of its membership through advocacy, education, services, grassroots efforts and the leadership of the Board of Directors and professional staff. The work of the National Committee is directed toward developing better-informed citizens and voters.

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Media Inquiries to:
Lambda Legal: Jonathan Adams
212-809-8585 ext.267, Cell: 646-752-3251