Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) impacts more than one thousand areas of federal law, including Social Security. So, it’s no surprise that implementation details and timelines are still being debated today…and likely will be for awhile. However, delay is not an option. The Obama administration needs to act quickly to reverse the benefit inequity that was at the heart of the high court’s ruling. Specifically, the Social Security Administration must move quickly to review and revise its policies regarding benefits for same-sex couples.
Reuters’ Mark Miller details some of the Social Security and Medicare issues to be resolved after the DOMA repeal:
The extension of Social Security spousal and survivor benefits is today’s most significant retirement benefit story. But experts point to ambiguity about exactly how the DOMA decision will reverberate through the Social Security program.
WHERE YOU LIVE
Same-sex couples who were married in states recognizing gay marriage, and who still live in that state, will be recognized for purposes of federal benefits. But the picture gets murkier for married couples who move to states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage. The Social Security Act’s definition of a spouse relies on the definitions in the state where an applicant lives.
What happens now to a couple that is married in a state that recognizes legal same-sex marriage, but currently lives in one that doesn’t?
Children constitute a major category of Social Security beneficiaries. The Social Security Administration says 4.4 million children receive benefits because one or both of their parents are disabled, retired or deceased.
Adopted children generally are eligible to file on the record of either parent in the case of heterosexual couples, but some states don’t recognize joint adoption. That could impact same-sex couples who adopt, says Webster Phillips, senior legislative representative at The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
“Prior to the repeal of DOMA,” Phillips said, “a child could qualify on a parent’s record, but not on that of a stepparent. Will that change now? We’ll have to see how far the Obama Administration goes in the way it interprets and implements the court’s decision.”
Our advice to same-sex couples who qualify is to apply for benefits now while Washington hammers out the details.