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A Ruling for Financial Equity

Survivor benefits are now available to LGBTQ couples.

Qualifying LGBTQ people are now eligible to access the Social Security survivor benefits of their deceased partners, thanks to changes made by the Biden administration. This change comes on the heels of a November 2021 move by the administration to drop Trump-era court appeals aimed at reversing a pro-equality federal ruling. Biden officials are now siding with two unmarried individuals who were previously denied access to their benefits due to a long history of federal LGBTQ discrimination. 

“This has been a long time coming, and it is news that should be celebrated!” says Grace Yung, a certified financial planner with Midtown Financial Group and the financial columnist for Outsmart. “Having worked with both opposite-sex and same-sex couples over the years, we are not that different from each other. We are all human beings who live and love. Why should LGBTQ+ individual relationships mean any less in the eyes of the law? They shouldn’t. Kudos to Lambda Legal for laying the groundwork for this change, and to the Biden administration.” 

The decision in November 2021 by the Justice Department and the Social Security Administration to drop the Trump-era appeals against the favorable federal court ruling paved the way for individuals to receive these benefits. 

The legal journey for these federal court cases started when Lambda Legal filed two class-action lawsuits on behalf of two couples in 2018. The law in question required that in order for a surviving spouse or partner to collect survivor benefits like Social Security, they would have had to have been married for at least nine months. For many same-sex unmarried couples, this would have been impossible due to the federal ban on recognizing same-sex marriage. Lambda Legal claimed that the history of unlawful discrimination now requires the government to make whole those couples who would have otherwise been eligible for spousal benefits.

“We have all heard stories or have friends who have been in relationships for 20, 30 and 40-plus years, where one partner dies and the surviving spouse is left (in most cases, unfortunately) with only memories and no financial support [from Social Security benefits] based on their deceased partner’s work history. That is not right, and I am glad we are finally moving in the right direction,” says Yung.

 This change will have a significant impact on the lives of many in the LGBTQ community. According to Yung, the average survivor benefit is $1,250 a month. That amount can help someone afford a safe place to live, pay for medications, and buy groceries. This will in turn have a positive impact on the quality of life for those individuals.

“Folks who can prove they were in long-term committed relationships—who lived together or owned property together, relied on each other for financial support, raised children together, or held a commitment ceremony—can apply, and have the ability to appeal if denied,” says Yung.

It is important to note that surviving partners are not required to have been legally married in order to access these benefits, because people in states like Texas were not allowed to get married before marriage equality became the law of the land.  

“As long as they are able to prove they had been in a long-term committed relationship, they have a chance and should apply,” Yung emphasizes.  

Surviving partners who think they are eligible can contact the Social Security Administration directly. “The SSA has trained staff to work with LGBTQ+ folks to determine whether or not they qualify. Lambda Legal is also a great resource, as they are leading this campaign. And lastly, it would be a good idea to also reach out to get help from a certified financial planner who is well versed in LGBTQ+ needs and issues,” Yung suggests.  

For more info on the survivor benefits ruling, visit Lamda Legal at tinyurl.com/57654f2j.

This article appears in the March 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.
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