SSA will apply marriage benefits retroactively, grant pending spousal benefits

Posted on 20 Aug 2015 at 6:31pm

Lambda Legal plaintiff Kathy Murphy of Texas

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today (Thursday, Aug. 20), that the Social Security Administration will apply the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide retroactively and process pending spousal benefits claims for couples that lived in jurisdictions that didn’t recognize their marriages prior to the ruling.

The announcement came in a status conference with Lambda Legal in a Chicago federal court. The DOJ said the new policy will apply to previously filed claims still pending in the administrative process or litigation.

Lambda Legal filed federal lawsuits last year on behalf of widower Dave Williams, formerly of Arkansas and now living in Chicago, Texas widow Kathy Murphy, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Williams and Murphy were both denied benefits after the deaths of their spouses because although they were legally married, they lived in jurisdictions that did not legally recognize those marriages.

Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, said today that her organization is pleased to have gotten this confirmation from the SSA, and although SSA has not announced when the policy change will be posted and implemented, “we look forward to reviewing the details and working with the agency to ensure that those who had been wrongly denied in the pas will not have to wait longer to have their relationships treated with dignity by the federal government. … 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.”

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