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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How DOMA Repeal Would Affect Social Security Benefits

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court has made a remarkable change in the Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The court has ruled last Wednesday that the said law barring the federal government from recognizing same sex marriage legitimized by the states is unconstitutional, which means that the act was only enacted as law either by a national legislature or by the legislature of a subordinate level of government like a state or a province. The court states that the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Thus, gay marriage would be legally recognized in the entire country.

DOMA was enacted into law on September 21, 1996 by the then U.S. President, Bill Clinton. The law legally allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages attested under the laws of other states, which also means that same-sex couples would be prevented from receiving numerous federal benefits available to opposite-sex couples. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department initially showed support for DOMA despite the administration’s desire to repeal the same. However, when the said agency found out that the law being unconstitutional, it has declined to defend it since then. According to last week’s ruling, “failure to defend the constitutionality of an Act of Congress based on a constitutional theory not yet established in judicial decisions" had "created a procedural dilemma."

Consequently, it would also mean significant changes in the Social Security system as same-sex marriage is now recognized. Within the next few months, couples residing in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage could be able to take advantage of the revised laws.

Unfortunately for those same-sex couples living in a state that do not acknowledge same-sex marriage, they may still find it difficult to fight for their spouse’s benefits since the Social Security Administration (SSA) generally uses the “place of domicile” as its basis for determining spousal benefits.

Meanwhile, for those same-sex couples living in states that acknowledge same-sex marriage, here is a brief summary of what you can expect from your social security benefits following the big changes:

- Any social security benefits that a spouse of an opposite-sex marriage would be entitled to will now be applied to same-sex spouses.

- If a same-sex spouse has been disabled, the other half can get up to 50 percent of the disabled spouse’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits each month.

- The eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits that is dependent on the income and resources of the disabled individual for an opposite-sex married couple will also apply to same-sex married couple.

Incidentally, the SSA has already eased the requirements for updating gender designation in favor of transgender people since last month, making the recent ruling as the second big victory for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in a row.

However, although the new legislation has cleared the ambiguity as to how that agency will now handle same sex-marriage, it is still best to seek legal advice from a Los Angeles SSI lawyer due to some same-sex marriage acknowledgement issues varying in each state. He further noted that although same sex marriage is accepted in some states, it is still invalid in others.