Same-sex couples denied Social Security benefits

Posted at 6:17 PM, Feb 26, 2013

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Many same-sex couples are losing out on thousands of dollars a year in Social Security benefits because the federal government doesn’t recognize gay marriage, a new report finds.

When a partner dies, the surviving spouse in a same-sex couple isn’t eligible for the average $1,184 in monthly survivor’s benefits that widow’s from opposite-sex couples receive, a report published Tuesday by the Human Rights Campaign and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare Foundation said.

Same-sex couples also don’t qualify for the one-time payment of $255 that the Social Security Administration gives to surviving spouses to help with expenses like burials either.

Even while both partners are alive, a lower-earning spouse in a same-sex couple can’t opt to receive Social Security disability or retirement benefits of up to half of a spouse’s benefits (if that amount is larger than what they would get based on their own income) like opposite-sex couples can. That results in an average loss of $675 per month — or $8,100 per year in benefit payments.

Children of same-sex couples are denied Social Security benefits in some cases, too. Depending on their age, children are typically eligible to receive a portion of the Social Security benefits of a deceased, retired or disabled parent — but only if that parent has legal parental rights.

Many same-sex couples adopt children, or one spouse will give birth to a child and the other will become their legal parent through a second parent adoption. But because second parent adoptions aren’t allowed in every state, some people aren’t able to become the legal parents.

If a deceased spouse isn’t legally a parent at the time of death, the child doesn’t receive any benefits, resulting in an annual loss of $9,420 in child survivors benefits for the average family, the report found. And if an unrecognized parent becomes disabled, the annual loss would be nearly $4,000.

To help even out the playing field, The Human Rights Campaign and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare Foundation are urging Congress to amend the Social Security Act so that same-sex couples are granted spousal benefits. The groups are also calling for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

The Supreme Court is slated to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA this summer, and the Obama Administration voiced its opposition to the law last week.

“This is a matter of simple fairness,” the groups stated in the report. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are vital members of the American workforce and contribute their equal share to the social security system with every paycheck. Now is the time to ensure equal access to benefits.”

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