A new lawsuit seeks to win Social Security benefits for same-sex married couples that are equal to those available to heterosexual couples.
The suit was filed Monday by lesbian widow Deborah Tevyaw, represented by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, the Washington Blade reports. Tevyaw has been denied survivor’s benefits by the Social Security Administration on the grounds that her 2005 Massachusetts marriage to Patricia Baker wouldn’t have been recognized by their home state of Rhode Island at the time Baker died in 2011. Rhode Island has since enacted marriage equality.
GLAD’s suit says the SSA is misreading of Rhode Island law, citing the state’s “long-standing judicial recognition of out-of-state marriages even when those out-of-state marriages could not be validly entered into in Rhode Island.”
“There is no doubt in our minds that Rhode Island would have recognized Pat and Deb as validly married at the time of Pat’s death in 2011, and that Social Security’s reading of the law is just plain wrong,” GLAD senior staff attorney Janson Wu said in a press release.
In denying the benefits in 2012, the Social Security Administration initially cited the Defense of Marriage Act’s ban on federal government recognition of same-sex marriages. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this provision of DOMA in 2013, the SSA continued to deny the benefits because of its claim about Rhode Island law.
While fighting for the benefits, Tevyaw has lived on a small disability pension and had to sell the home she had occupied for 38 years, GLAD notes.
The suit demands that the SSA award the benefits to Tevyaw and to any “widow/er previously married to someone of the same sex … so long as the courts of the state in which the insured individual is domiciled at the time of death would find that the marriage was validly entered into in the state where the marriage was celebrated.”
“Wu told the Blade that language amounts to calling on the Social Security Administration to allow the flow of spousal benefits to married same-sex couples in states without marriage equality,” the newspaper reports.
SSA spokesman William Jarrett “said his agency agrees the issue behind the lawsuit ‘deserves additional consideration’ and said the administration plans to review its policy manuals based on analysis of Rhode Island state common law,” the Blade notes.