Administration Moves to Provide Federal Protections to Married Gay Couples

6/20/2014

Same-Sex Couples in Most States Still Face Discrimination, Denial of Crucial Social Security Protections

New York – Today Freedom to Marry applauded the Obama Administration’s announcement that it will take additional steps to more fully meet the constitutional requirement of equal treatment of married gay couples.  These include ensuring that same-sex couples can take leave from work to care for one another in times of emergency under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The announcement marked the latest step in the Administration’s year-long effort to bring the range of federal protections and responsibilities in line with how non-gay married couples are treated, following the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling in the Windsor case.

However, the Administration stated that because of ongoing marriage discrimination in 31 states, key Social Security protections for married same-sex couples will remain unavailable in nearly all the states that deny gay couples the freedom to marry. And specific problematic language in a handful of federal statutes related to protections for married veterans means that state marriage discrimination will bar those veterans from equal treatment in certain federal programs as well.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, released the following statement:

“Since the landmark Supreme Court decision last year in U.S. v. Windsor, the Obama Administration has moved with tremendous leadership, skill, and fidelity to the Constitution’s command of equality to implement a wide range of federal protections for married same-sex couples. Gay couples who are married, like non-gay married couples, now share in the crucial federal safety-net of protections and responsibilities, even in states that continue to discriminate. But because of ongoing marriage discrimination in 31 states, hundreds of thousands of couples continue to face the cruel denial of important Social Security and veterans’ benefits. Congress should move swiftly to pass curative legislation for our veterans and seniors, even as we look to the federal courts and the Supreme Court to secure the freedom to marry and equal protection nationwide. America is ready for the freedom to marry, and every day of denial is a day of hardship, injustice, and indignity. It’s time to end marriage discrimination once and for all.”

Since the Supreme Court struck down the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, the Obama Administration has fulfilled the president’s and attorney general’s pledge to move “swiftly and smoothly” to implement the ruling and provide equal federal treatment for all married couples, gay and non-gay, even in states that discriminate, across the range of federal marriage-related programs and policies -- from immigration to taxation, and more than 1,000 provisions of law. But the Administration concluded that a handful of important federal programs, notably aspects of Social Security and veterans’ benefits, require action by Congress and the courts.

Among the Social Security provisions that are not available to couples in most states is the Social Security Survivors Benefit.  The unavailability of this protection puts a surviving spouse in a potentially very vulnerable financial situation. Sandy and Doug are an older married gay couple who live in North Carolina who currently suffer the impact. In order to receive the Social Security Survivor Benefit in the case of either of them passing away, they would need to move to another state where their marriage is legally respected, leaving behind their four grown children, four grandchildren, Sandy's 91-year-old mother, and Sandy's job of 23 years.

“Freedom to Marry worked closely with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, as well as others, to encourage and assist the Obama Administration in shifting the federal government from being the number one discriminator against gay people to, now, putting its moral and legal weight on the side of our families, the Constitution, and the freedom to marry,” said Wolfson. “But it’s time for Congress, and especially the Supreme Court, to finish the job.”

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Freedom to Marry is the campaign to win marriage nationwide. We are pursuing our Roadmap to Victory by working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. We partner with individuals and organizations across the country to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the protections, responsibilities, and commitment that marriage brings.