New Bill in Congress Would Ensure All Spouses Can Access Social Security Benefits

This Tuesday, Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin introduced the Social Security and Marriage Equality Act (HR 1404), a piece of federal legislation that would ensure that all same-sex spouses are eligible to receive and access Social Security spousal benefits, regardless of where they live. Currently, federal law only permits same-sex couples to access these crucial spousal benefits if they live in a state that recognizes their marriage.

After the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in U.S. v. Windsor striking down the federal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, same-sex married couples are now eligible for the more than a thousand federal benefits flowing from marriage. However, variations in statutory and regulatory language governing how different agencies and programs must recognize same-sex marriages means that same-sex couples living in certain states continue to be denied access to some benefits. Specifically, the statutory language governing a handful of agencies – the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) – limits eligibility for spousal benefits to only those couples whose marriages are legally recognized in the state where they live. For the same-sex couples living in the approximately one dozen states that do not recognize same-sex marriages, this means that they are unable to access spousal benefits flowing from the SSA.

The Social Security and Marriage Equality Act would amend the existing statutory language in the Social Security Act, replacing this restrictive definition with language that requires the SSA to recognize any and all same-sex marriages, as long as they were legally entered into in the state or jurisdiction where they were celebrated. If passed, this bill will ensure that all same-sex couples can access Social Security Spousal benefits owed that them, including the retirement spousal benefit, disability spousal benefit, surviving spouse benefit, and lump sum death benefit. There are 63.2 million new recipients of Social Security benefits each year, and this bill will help ensure that these crucial benefits are accessible for all Americans who need them.

Rep. Kind’s bill also comes on the heels of the introduction of the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act, a federal bill that would similarly change the statutory language governing the Department of Veterans Affairs to make all same-sex spouses of veterans eligible to access important spousal benefits and support flowing from the VA. Both of these bills, if passed, would protect millions of Americans with same-sex marriages by ensuring that no spouse is turned away from accessing crucial federal benefits because of who they love.

You can learn more about accessing Social Security spousal benefits after the Windsor decision here.