Same-Sex Partners Can Now Access Social Security Survivor’s Benefits


Huge victory for LGBTQ+ elders as Security Administration (SSA) dismissed appeals of two Lambda Legal cases in favor of equal access to Social Security Survivor’s Benefits for same-sex partners

[New York, NY] This week, Lambda Legal has announced that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has withdrawn its appeals in two cases on behalf of surviving same-sex partners and spouses whom SSA had previously denied from receiving Social Security Survivor’s Benefits. This is a monumental win for LGBTQ+ elders, many who have been forced to live without these crucial and rightful benefits for far too long. For many LGBTQ+ people, including Lambda’s clients in Ely v. Saul and Thornton v. Commissioner of Social Security, former discriminatory marriage laws prevented couples from meeting the requirement of being married for 9 months before qualifying for Social Security Survivor’s Benefits. Lambda’s cases confirmed that denying survivor’s benefits to those who were barred from marriage is just as unconstitutional as the underlying marriage bans.

“Many people think that Social Security is merely a safety net, but in reality, it is the primary source of income for most older Americans as they enter retirement, including LGBTQ+ elders,” said SAGE CEO Michael Adams. “Being able to access survivor’s benefits will make a world of difference to LGBTQ+ older people who have been denied these well-deserved benefits as they age. SAGE applauds the brave individuals and their lawyers at Lambda Legal who fought in court for these tremendous victories.”

For those survivors who can show that they would have been married for at least nine months had there been no unconstitutional exclusion, there is now no obstacle for once partnered or married LGBTQ+ people to apply for Social Security Survivor’s Benefits – even if their partner died years ago, even if they were never able to marry, even if they were not married for a full 9 months, even if they have never applied before, and even if they’ve already begun collecting their own retirement benefits.

The agency has been processing many of these claims since the district court rulings last year, but with the end of these appeals, there is a new group of people who can now pursue benefits – namely, surviving partners who have never applied for benefits in the past. We urge LGBTQ+ elders who may be able to pursue these benefits to view Lambda Legal’s FAQ for more information.

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