These updated instructions come in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, which found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and expanded the definition of the term spouse. As result of the court ruling, the SSA is no longer prevented from recognizing same-gender marriages to determine entitlement or payment amount.
The updates to the processing instructions cover the topics of:
- Aged spouses;
- Lump sum death payments;
- Surviving spouses;
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI);
- Determining marital status for Title II and Medicare Benefits;
- Dates and states permitted or recognized same-gender marriage; and
- Non-marital legal relationships such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.
These updates allow the SSA to recognize some non-marital legal relationships as marriages for determining entitlement to benefits. These instructions also allow the SSA to begin processing many claims in states that do not recognize same-gender marriages or non-marital legal relationships. According to a statement from the SSA, the agency has consulted with the Department of Justice and determined that the Social Security Act requires the agency to follow state law in Social Security cases. The new policy also addresses Supplemental Security Income claims based on same-gender relationships.
“As with previous same-sex marriage policies, we worked closely with the Department of Justice,” says Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, based in Washington, D.C. “We are bound by the law within the Social Security Act, and we have to respect state laws. We remain committed to treating all Americans fairly, with dignity, and respect.”
More information about this topic, including links to the revised instructions, as well as a fact sheet and questions-and-answers sheet, can be found here.