[JURIST] The Obama administration announced [press release] Monday that the Social Security Administration (SSA) [official website] will begin processing payments to surviving spouses of same-sex married couples [JURIST backgrounder]. In a brief statement, Press Officer LaVenia LaVelle said, “I am pleased to announce that, effective today, Social Security is processing some widow’s and widower’s claims by surviving members of same-sex marriages and paying benefits where they are due. In addition, we are able to pay some one-time lump sum death benefit claims to surviving same-sex spouses. As I stated shortly after the Supreme Court decision on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, our goal is to treat all Americans with dignity and respect.” Widow’s benefits are payable to the surviving spouses who were married at the time of their spouse’s death, as well as those who were legally married for at least 10 years, but later divorced. The maximum amount a widow over 60 years old may receive is the amount the deceased spouse was receiving or would have received at the time of death. Because the SSA regulations specifically yield to the definition of “marriage” used by the state in which a couple lives, the SSA has lagged behind other federal departments in providing for same-sex couples.
Other federal agencies have taken similar steps to ensure the inclusion of same-sex couples in administrative processes. Earlier this month the US Department of Education [official website] announced [JURIST report] that for the purposes of applying for and receiving federal student financial aid, the federal government will now recognize all legal same-sex marriages.On the same day as the Department of Education’s announcement, the US Customs and Border Protection said [Time report] it will expand the definition of “members of a family residing in a household” to include same-sex couples and other domestic relationships so as to facilitate the declarations process. While the Windsor decision did not create a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, it does entitle couples in lawfully recognized same-sex marriages to certain federal benefits. In September the US Department of Labor [official website] issued guidance explaining [JURIST report] that all legally married same-sex spouses in the US can participate in employee benefit plans overseen by the Employee Benefits Security Administration [official website]. Earlier in September the US Department of Justice [official website] announced [JURIST report] that it will no longer enforce a federal law that denies same-sex spouses veterans benefits. In August the US Treasury Department [official website] announced that it, along with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) [official website], will recognize marriages [JURIST report] of all same-sex couples for federal tax purposes.