by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Washington Senator Patty Murray is sponsoring two bills that will benefit LGBT Americans - one to equalize Social Security benefits, and one to combat bullying at colleges and universities.
The SAME (Social Security and Marriage Equality) Act was announced on March 17, with Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) - the U.S. Senate's first out Lesbian - and Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) working with Murray as primary sponsors of the bill.
The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act was introduced the next day. Baldwin and openly Gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) worked with Murray on this measure.
Unlike other federal agencies, which recognize same-sex marriages if they are legal where they are performed, the Social Security Administration (SSA) only recognizes same-sex marriages if they are legal in the state where the couple resides. That means that legally married Gay and Lesbian couples may still miss out on some benefits they would enjoy if they were opposite-sex couples.
The SAME Act would amend Title II of the Social Security Act to:
o Confer spousal benefits to any individual legally married in United States.
o Eliminate the requirement that the spouse reside in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage to be eligible for Social Security benefits.
o Ensure spouses legally married outside the United States are eligible for Social Security benefits.
Among the benefits at stake are survivor benefits for spouses of deceased wage-earners, and enhanced retirement benefits in cases where one of the spouses earned substantially more than the other.
'All legally married same-sex couples deserve equal treatment under the law, regardless of their zip code,' Murray said in a statement.
'Where you live should not determine whether your family is economically secure following the death of a spouse, and it shouldn't prevent your family from receiving the benefits you have earned. The SAME Act would help ensure equality under federal law does not end at state lines.'
Currently 55 lawsuits challenging the SSA's approach to marriage are pending in federal court, including six involving the marriage laws of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, which will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28.
'For the last six months, all Wisconsinites have fully enjoyed the benefit of marriage equality. Unfortunately legally married same-sex couples in Wisconsin face uncertainty if moving to a state where their marriage is not recognized,' Baldwin said.
'The SAME Act will provide fairness and equality for legally married same-sex couples under the Social Security Act, regardless of where they live. While I am hopeful the Supreme Court will soon remove the necessity of such measures, I am proud to join this effort to build on our nation's founding belief that all Americans are created free and equal under the law.'
The bill has received support from HRC, Social Security Works, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, OWL-The Voice of Women 40+, the Pride Foundation, and the GSBA.
The Tyler Clementi Act
The legislation is named after Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and another student invaded his privacy and harassed him over the Internet.
LGBT students are nearly twice as likely as their peers to experience harassment and are far more likely to be harassed based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, there is currently no requirement that colleges and universities have policies in place that protect their students and employees from harassment that occurs via electronic communications, or harassment that is based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.
The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act requires colleges and universities that receive federal aid - and almost all U.S. colleges and universities do - to take steps to prevent bullying and harassment.
o It requires colleges and universities receiving federal aid to establish an anti-harassment policy prohibiting the harassment of enrolled students based on their actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.
o It also requires colleges to distribute their anti-harassment policy to all students and employees, including prospective students and employees upon request.
o It recognizes 'cyberbullying,' which includes harassment undertaken through electronic messaging services, commercial mobile services, and other electronic communications.
o It authorizes a competitive grant program for institutions of higher education to initiate, expand, or improve programs to: (a) prevent the harassment of students; (b) provide counseling or redress services to students who have been harassed or accused of subjecting other students to harassment; and (c) train students, faculty, or staff to prevent harassment or address harassment if it occurs.
'All students deserve the chance to further their education, without the fear of harassment and bullying,' Murray said.
'LGBT students are more likely to be harassed in school, yet there is no federal requirement for colleges and universities to protect their students from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. I am proud that this bill would take meaningful steps to provide schools and students with tools to prevent harassment and protect survivors. By honoring Tyler's life with this legislation, we can work to prevent the bullying that far too many students are forced to endure.'
'No student should have to live in fear of being who they are. Our schools should not be, and cannot be a place of discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation or violence. This legislation is an important step forward in not only preventing harassment on campus, but also making sure our students have the freedom to succeed in safe and healthy communities of learning and achievement,' Baldwin added.
'Everyone deserves a fair shot at our colleges and universities across America and this legislation will help ensure people can pursue their dreams free of harassment and bullying.'
The measure has received support from the HRC, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Women's Law Center, the American Association for University Women, GLSEN, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action, and the Pride Foundation.
Murray and Baldwin introduced similar legislation in 2014, but it did advance to a vote in the Senate.
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