ADRC of Pierce County

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Learning Library

Go To--> Learn About | Benefits | Employment | Social Security

Article: SSA Issues New Ruling on Benefits for Married LGBT Individuals

Benefits for Married LGBT Individuals

Table of Contents
  1. Benefits for Married LGBT Individuals


SSA Issues New Ruling on Benefits for Married LGBT Individuals

image of social security administration logo

The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced on March 1, 2017, that it would reopen any decision to deny spousal or survivors benefits to a same-sex spouse based on same-sex marriage bans previously in effect. The United States Supreme court determined in United States v. Windsor (2013) that federal non-recognition of same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. In Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the Court found that state same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional. Before these rulings, SSA denied  spousal and survivors benefits to many same-sex spouses because of the marriage bans in effect at the time. Many people did not appeal these denials because they thought an appeal would be unsuccessful. Usually, when people do not appeal an SSA decision, that decision becomes final. However, because the decisions in these cases relied on unconstitutional federal and state laws, SSA is reopening these decisions.

This policy applies to applications for spousal or survivors benefits that SSA denied before the Windsor and Obergefell decisions because the agency did not recognize these marriages at the time. Moreover, individuals who began receiving these benefits after the Supreme Court decisions may be entitled to retroactive benefits for the period after they first applied for benefits and before SSA recognized their marriages. However, SSA’s policy does not apply to applications for spousal or survivors benefits that were denied for other reasons, including applications from individuals who were not married long enough for benefits (1 year for spousal benefits and 9 months for survivors benefits).

SSA’s new policy may even apply to individuals who did not actually submit an application for spousal or survivors benefits. If individuals can prove they contacted SSA about applying for these benefits, and SSA staff discouraged them from filing because their marriage would not be recognized, they may be able to establish a protective filing date for their application. In addition, individuals who can show that they applied for a reduced retirement benefit based on their own work record because SSA staff discouraged them from applying for spousal benefits may be able to seek the higher benefits. Although SSA’s advice was accurate at the time, because the agency based its advice on these unconstitutional laws, it is now considered misinformation. Affected individuals should contact the office where they received this misinformation and provide evidence of their prior contact with the office, including date, the name of employee with whom they spoke, and a summary of the conversation.

SSA has identified approximately 800 individuals whose applications for benefits were denied because the agency did not recognize their marriages to a same-sex spouse. However, it is unclear when SSA will contact those individuals to let them know that their denied applications will be reopened. Moreover, SSA will not contact individuals whose denials were not identified in the agency’s systems. Therefore, affected individuals do not need to wait for SSA to contact them before requesting their applications be reopened. SSA will go as far back as necessary to pay all benefits that were denied because the agency did not recognize same-sex marriages.


By the GWAAR Legal Services Team

Last Updated on 8/2/2017