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Same Sex Couples’ Benefits – March 2017 Alert


On March 1, the Social Security Administration (SSA) published a new policy allowing same-sex married couples to reopen Social Security Spouse and Survivor’s claims applications that had been denied prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Windsor and Obergefell decisions establishing a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples.  The same policy applies to individuals denied SSI benefits.  The impact of this policy may be less significant in New Mexico than elsewhere, because our state Supreme Court affirmed the right of same-sex marriage in December 2013 (and SSA treated its effect as retroactive to August 23, 2013).  Potentially affected individuals should contact SSA for reopening as soon as possible.

Although SSA is attempting to reach out to individuals who were denied coverage prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decisions, it is always possible for individuals to have fallen through the cracks, misidentified, changed addresses, etc.  According to the national non-profit advocacy organization Justice in Aging, relief might also be possible for couples who were dissuaded from even applying on account of information received from SSA staff.  SSA acknowledges that while such information may have been accurate when given, it is now considered misinformation!  The relief is available only where eligibility was denied solely due to same-sex marriage status (i.e., not due to other factors, such as length of marriage).  SSA’s new policy is described in
§ GN 00210.030 of its “POMS” Manual (google ‘POMS Manual online’ for table of contents).


In a decision announced on June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states which authorize marriage (as all do) are required by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to permit same-sex couples to marry, under the same terms and conditions that apply to opposite-sex couples.  As expected, the decision was welcomed by supporters of same-sex marriage rights throughout the nation, and denounced by opponents nationwide.  The name of the case is Obergefell vs. Hodges.

In the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court ruled that the right to marry is a fundamental liberty right protected by the Constitution, and that the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment require states to permit same-sex couples to marry, under the same terms and conditions that apply to opposite-sex couples.  It was a ruling in favor of marriage equality.  The ruling highlighted the Court’s 1967 decision overturning state bans on interracial marriages, and concluded that where peoples’ rights are violated, the Constitution requires redress by the courts.


By the time the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, same-sex marriages had been ‘legalized’ in 37 states (including New Mexico), often through court decisions.


The United States and New Mexico Supreme Courts have each rendered decisions affirming the legality of marriages involving same-sex couples.

As a result, individuals who have entered into such marriages have attained the rights and responsibilities of “married couples” and “spouses” under various benefit programs and tax laws  – including Medicare, Medicaid, Military and Veterans’ Benefits, Federal Employee and Retiree Benefits, Federal Income and Estate Taxes, and more.


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