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Denial of federal benefits to Texas same-sex widow challenged

The U.S. Supreme Court decision last year which struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act opened up many federal benefits to same-sex couples. However, as we have mentioned in a past post, there are still some types of federal benefits where barriers are present for married same-sex couples who live in states where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized.

One of these barriers is now being challenged in federal court. The barrier in question relates to spousal survivor's benefits under the Social Security program. Currently, the Social Security Administration uses the laws of the state where a couple lived to determine if the couple was married for the purposes of eligibility for such benefits. This can block a surviving member of a same-sex couple that lived in a state with a same-sex marriage ban from being able to receive such benefits when their partner dies.

This is exactly the situation a Texas woman found herself in. She and her same-sex partner got married in Massachusetts, but lived in Texas. After her same-sex partner died of cancer, the woman submitted a claim for spousal survivor's benefits to the SSA. Her claim was denied based on Texas' same-sex marriage ban.

This woman is the one who is challenging the above-mentioned SSA policy. In her federal lawsuit, she is arguing that the policy is unconstitutional and that her claim for benefits should be approved. 

This case has the potential to have some significant impacts. If the case ultimately results in the challenged SSA policy being deemed unconstitutional, it could open up federal benefits even further to same-sex couples. Thus, this could be an important case to keep an eye on.

What do you think of the challenged SSA policy? Do you think it is unconstitutional?

As this matter underscores, there are all sorts of different ways that the state's same-sex marriage ban can impact same-sex couples here in Texas. Texas same-sex partners who have questions on how the ban affects their legal status when it comes to family law issues and what their options are to address family law issues given this legal status may want to discuss their situation with a family law attorney.

Source: The New York Times, "Denied Survivor’s Benefits After Wife’s Death, Texas Widow Files a Federal Suit," Erik Eckholm, Oct. 22, 2014

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