President Barack Obama unveiled his fiscal year 2016 budget today (Monday, Feb. 2), and it includes a proposal allowing legally married same-sex couples to receive Social Security benefits, even if they live in a state where there marriage is not legally recognized, according to numerous reports including this one at TalkingPointsMemo.com.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in the U.S. v Windsor decision in June 2013. Last June, a number of regulatory changes were announced that made most of the federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex married couples also available to legally-married same-sex couples. But not Social Security or veterans benefits.
Government officials said small number of provisions in federal law explicitly prohibit the government from providing benefits to same-sex couples when it comes to the Social Security agency and the Veterans Affairs Department. President Obama can’t extend those benefits through regulatory changes; those changes will have to come through a vote in Congress.
Given that the Republicans control Congress right now, it’s not likely we’ll see the necessary changes made any time soon. But having the president include those changes in his budget proposal and call on Congress to make the necessary changes is some progress at least.
And of course, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality this spring, it might not make any difference anyway, since same-sex marriage will be legal in every state then.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said Monday that Obama’s proposal “would fix a crucial gap in federal protections for same-sex couples. President Obama’s leadership in helping bring the freedom to marry to all Americans will be a shining part of [his] legacy.”
Not being eligible for Social Security survivor benefits “can mean a significant drop in benefits after the death of spouse, a hardship that non-gay married couples do not face,” Wolfson said, pointing to the case of Arlene Goldberg, a Florida woman who was forced to leave her home after her wife died. As of Jan. 5, however, same-sex marriage is legally recognized in Florida.