News (USA)

SSA offices turning away same-sex couples in new marriage equality states

SALT LAKE CITY — Married, same-sex couples are being turned away at Social Security offices in Utah, and presumably other states where marriage equality became legal this week, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday that effectively overturned gay marriage bans in Utah and four other states.


According to a memorandum released publicly Friday, Social Security Administration officials claim more time is needed to streamline procedures for issuance of SSA Cards, eligibility and benefits, even though those procedures are already in place in 19 other states where same-sex marriage was legal prior to Monday.

The SSA has directed its field offices to “hold” all claims and appeals from married, same-sex couples in 10 states that fall under the jurisdiction of the Fourth, Ninth and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeals where marital status may be a factor in benefits eligibility.

In one case in Salt Lake City, the attorney for a same-sex couple who was denied updated Social Security cards noted that “the law on this issue has been clearly established for fifteen (15) months, giving the agency ample opportunity to correct its discriminatory practices.”

Following the June 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Justice Department said federal agencies should process Social Security and veterans’ benefits according to a couple’s “place of domicile” rather than “place of celebration.”

Despite the DOJ’s interpretation, SSA has continued to process benefits claims and other administrative actions based on where married, same-sex couples reside, and still, five days after marriage bans were struck down in Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana, Wisconsin and Virginia, the SSA has not instructed offices in those states with updated procedures.

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The disparity in overseeing of federal benefits was echoed Thursday by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.), who, in a letter to President Barack Obama, called for executive action, reported The New York Times.

Feinstein wrote that given the “wave of new legal precedent” and it’s “clear message” that marriage discrimination against same-sex couples is on the way out, the Social Security Administration and Department of Veteran Affairs should not be giving “affect to such discrimination in the allocation of benefits.”

An attorney for the social security administration Friday refused comment other than to state that SSA officials will fully comply with federal guidelines and laws.​

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