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August 29, 2012

GLAD Gives Tips for Married Couples to Preserve Rights Under Social Security Until DOMA is Overturn

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is pleased to announce a new publication aimed at helping married same-sex couples preserve their rights under Social Security while the organization continues its efforts to overturn Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

“DOMA prevents married same-sex couples who have paid into the system their entire working lives from accessing vital Social Security benefits that other married couples receive without question,” said Senior Staff Attorney Vickie Henry. “We think that’s unconstitutional, and we’re suing to overturn this discriminatory law. But for now we’ve outlined steps eligible couples can take to preserve their rights and possibly receive benefits retroactively when DOMA is either struck down in court or repealed by Congress.”

Because DOMA Section 3 prevents their marriages from being recognized by the federal government, legally married same-sex couples cannot access federal programs that help other couples and families. In the context of Social Security, DOMA prevents a spouse in a same-sex marriage from claiming the Social Security benefit that would otherwise be available to a spouse, including:

• the spousal benefit
• the spousal disability benefit
• the lump-sum death benefit
• the survivor benefit

For instance, after Randy Lewis-Kendall, a plaintiff in GLAD’s Gill v. Office of Personnel Management lawsuit, lost his spouse Rob, he was denied the lump-sum death benefit that would have helped him pay for Rob’s funeral. Herb Burtis, another Gill plaintiff, was also denied the lump-sum benefit when his spouse John Ferris passed away, in addition to being denied the survivor benefit that would have boosted his monthly fixed income by $700.00.

GLAD’s new publication, Social Security Benefits and the Defense of Marriage Act: Can I Do Anything Now to Preserve My Rights? Yes!, details the various benefits that same-sex couples are denied under DOMA, how to file for those benefits now, how to appeal the denial of benefits based on DOMA, and how to keep your appeal alive to preserve your rights while the legal challenges are pending.

In addition to Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, which may be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court as early as next year, GLAD is also litigating Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management, our second challenge to Section 3 of DOMA. Ruling in Pedersen last month, federal district court Judge Vanessa L. Bryant became the latest judge to declare DOMA unconstitutional.

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Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is New England's leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.