The Department of Justice has announced the Social Security Administration will apply the Supreme Court’s recent landmark marriage rulingretroactively and process pending spousal benefits claims for same-sex couples who lived in states that did not previously recognize their marriages. This is terrific news for hundreds of survivors, like NCPSSM member Kathy Murphy, who is a Texas widow denied spousal benefits after the death of her wife. Lambda Legal represents Kathy and the National Committee in a lawsuit filed last year arguing that denying Social Security benefits to same-sex spouses because they live in states that discriminate against their marriages violates the U.S. Constitution. Kathy talked to the New York Times about her case:
“She has been unable to collect survivor and death benefits from Social Security since she lost her spouse, Sara Barker, to cancer in 2012. Ms. Murphy retired from her career in publishing in 2011, earlier than she expected, to care for Ms. Barker, who died at 62.
Ms. Murphy finds herself in this predicament largely because her spouse died before the Supreme Court’s monumental ruling in June, Obergefell v. Hodges, which declared that marriage is a fundamental right. That case came after the landmark Windsor decision, in 2013, in which the court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits.
“There is just a feeling of being left at the side of the road,” said Ms. Murphy, 63, who filed her claim for survivor benefits in 2013, shortly after the Windsor ruling. “I get to witness the celebration but I don’t get to experience it.”
Lambda Legal reports:
“SSA has not announced when this policy change will be posted and implemented, but we look forward to reviewing the details and working with the agency to ensure that those who had been wrongly denied in the past will not have to wait longer to have their relationships treated with dignity by the federal government.
With this good news, we are hopeful that widows, widowers and retirees, wherever they lived, who need Social Security spousal benefits earned through years of hard work will soon be able to receive them. We urge the SSA to move quickly to right the injustice to same-sex spouses whose marriages were unconstitutionally disrespected and who await Social Security protections.”