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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 9 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 19
Senators Murray and Udall introduce bill to ensure equality for same-sex spouses
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Senators Murray and Udall introduce bill to ensure equality for same-sex spouses

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

U.S. Senators Patty Murray of Washington state and Mark Udall of Colorado have introduced legislation to guarantee that all same-sex spouses will get equal treatment by the Social Security Administration.

The SAME (Social Security and Marriage Equality) Act of 2014 would make all same-sex spouses eligible for all Social Security benefits regardless of where they live.

Unlike most federal departments, the Social Security Administration applies a 'place of residence standard' in determining spousal benefits. In other words, a married same-sex couple living here in Washington would be entitled to the same Social Security benefits as a married opposite-sex couple, but if they moved to Idaho, where same-sex marriage is not legal, they would no longer get those benefits.

Both retirement benefits and survivor benefits are affected by these rules, which put same-sex couples at a significant disadvantage compared to their opposite-sex counterparts.

The SAME Act would amend the Social Security Act to apply the so-called 'place of celebration standard,' which recognizes any legal marriage that takes place in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.

In a February 10 memorandum to the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder used the place of celebration standard for determining the validity of marriages for DOJ policies and procedures. 'The current delay of survivor benefits claims by the Social Security Administration not only places an unfair economic burden on legally married same-sex couples, but an extremely emotional one as well,' said Senator Patty Murray.

'Your zip code should not determine whether or not your family will have the means to survive after the death of a spouse. While I believe the Social Security Administration can, and should, resolve this inconsistency through administrative action, the SAME Act would provide a roadmap to ensure equality under our federal laws do not end at state lines.'

Udall added that the Social Security Administration has lagged behind federal law in recognizing Gay and Lesbian marriages.

'Nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, there's no excuse for the federal government to continue withholding certain federal benefits from legally married same-sex couples. That's why I am proud to lead the effort to ensure the Social Security Administration doesn't discriminate against anyone who is appropriately eligible for spousal benefits,' he said.

'Marriages don't end when couples cross state lines, and neither should the federal benefits they have earned. Whether it's veterans' home loans or spousal survivor benefits, I won't rest until the federal government treats all marriages equally.'

The SAME Act has been endorsed by HRC, the National Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, OWL National, the Pride Foundation, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), and Social Security Works.

'Every legally married, same-sex couple deserves to have their marriage fully recognized by the federal government regardless of where they live or what federal benefits they have earned,' said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy.

'We are grateful to Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall for bringing attention to the essential protections provided by Social Security. Their strong, passionate and consistent leadership is moving us closer to an America where every citizen is treated equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.'

'SAGE congratulates Senators Murray and Udall on introducing this important legislation,' said Michael Adams, Executive Director, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). 'It is high time that LGBT older adults were treated like first class citizens when it comes to receiving the Social Security benefits they have earned through a life of hard work.'

Among the key provisions of the SAME Act are:

o Conferring spousal benefits on any individual legally married in United States.

o Eliminating the requirement that the spouse reside in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage in order to be eligible for Social Security benefits.

o Ensuring that spouses legally married outside the United States are eligible for Social Security benefits.

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