SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS DISCRIMINATION FACTS
- Despite calls for equality in benefits from a broad cross section of government leaders and the American public, there remains embedded in Social Security Administration qualifications harsh and consequential discrimination against America’s same-sex couples. This discrimination directly affects the lives and lessens the security of millions of people in the United States.
- Social Security Benefits which are denied to same-sex couples fall into four categories:
1) Spousal Retirement Benefits (when one spouse retires)
2) Spousal /Dependents Disability Benefit under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) (when one spouse is disabled)
3) Survivors Benefits
4) Death Benefit
1) Spousal Retirement Benefits* – allow a low-income spouse to be eligible for either their own benefit, or an amount equal to one-half of their higher earning spouse’s benefit. It is common for one partner to earn more and pay more into Social Security than the other. Once both partners have retired, one, for example, may qualify for benefits of $500 a month and the other for $2,000 a month. The one who has qualified for $500 is automatically qualified for $1,000 instead which is equal to half of the larger earners benefit. When retirement comes, the lower earner gets a boost, so that the couple can retire with some security. This benefit is not available to same-sex couples.
2) Spousal /Dependents Disability Benefit under SSDI * - provides for a spouse and dependents to qualify for benefits on a disabled worker’s earnings record in the same way as with retired workers (see above). This benefit is not available to same-sex couples. Even the children of same-sex couples may be at risk. (The Department of Justice has issued an opinion on this, but this area of law is still unclear.)
3) Survivors Benefits* – allow a widow or widower to be eligible to claim their own Social Security benefit, or an amount equal to the benefit to which their deceased spouse was eligible. So, upon retirement, if a couple qualifies for $500 for one person and $2000 for the other, together their monthly benefit would be $2,500. Upon the death of the person getting $2,000, the survivor can receive $2000 per month, instead of $500. Although the household income will go down by $500, the survivor can adjust by economizing on living expenses for one person instead of two, and live with some security. This is true in all cases except when the survivor was in a same-sex partnership. In those instances, the survivor has to get by on only $500 per month.
4) Death Benefit* - Upon the death of a spouse, Social Security provides a modest benefit of $255 for burial expenses, etc. But not if the survivor was in a same-sex partnership.
1) In some instances, the Social Security Administration affords certain advantageous benefits to divorced individuals that it does not provide to same-sex couples – even when the same-sex couples are married or registered as domestic partners.
2) The Social Security Administration does not recognize any same-sex relationships, anywhere, including couples in states that afford same-sex couples the right to marry or the right to register as domestic partners.
*The titles assigned here to these benefits will generally not be found in the laws governing Social Security. They are used here to help facilitate the readers understanding of the laws as written.