News Releases

Despite expansion, gaps still remain for those seeking Social Security benefits

Murray’s SAME Act named by administration as legislative fix 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), author of the Social Security and Marriage Equality (SAME) Act, released the following statement after the Obama administration announced the expansion of several federal benefits and obligations to married, same-sex couples. The announcement comes after the Department of Justice completed their year-long review of potential legal barriers to these benefits after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

However, the report indicates that obstacles still remain for certain couples seeking benefits from the Veterans or Social Security Administration.  In a memo to President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder noted the need for Congress to pass Senator Murray’s SAME Act in order to extend full Social Security benefits to married, same-sex couples.

“As we near the one-year anniversary of the historic Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA, today’s news is one of relief and celebration for many of the committed, same-sex couples across America whose lives have been put on hold waiting for this report. These couples, many of them our nation’s heroes, will no longer have to face uncertainty while caring for or mourning the loss of a loved one.

“However, I am disappointed there are still many couples seeking Social Security benefits who will continue to be viewed as second-class citizens in the eyes of the law. Your zip code should not determine whether or not your family will have the means to survive after the death of a spouse, and it shouldn’t prevent your family from getting the benefits you have earned.

“While I believe the administration had the ability to include these benefits in today’s announcement, my SAME Act now provides a legislative roadmap to finally provide these benefits to all couples, regardless of where they live. This seemingly subjective denial of spousal benefit claims places an economic and emotional burden on the families of legally married same-sex couples, and it is inconsistent with the practice of other federal departments and agencies.

“In the coming days I will be working with my colleagues in the House and the Senate to get this job done. I also urge the administration to continue holding the applications of those who have applied for Social Security benefits until Congress or the courts act to fix this unfortunate gap in benefits.”

In May, Senators Murray and Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced the SAME Act to amend the Social Security Act in order to provide full benefits to married, same-sex couples regardless of where they live. Eligibility for spousal benefits provided under the Social Security Act are determined by a place of residence standard. This standard has resulted in applications for Social Security benefits for legally married same-sex spouses living in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage being placed on hold. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced the companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 

In March of last year, Senator Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, led a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki calling for an expedited waiver process granting same-sex veterans and their spouses burial rights in national cemeteries. Today’s announcement also included directive that the VA Acting Secretary will “exercise his broad statutory discretion in the area of burial benefits to designate any individual in a committed relationship for burial in a national cemetery, which will allow for the inclusion of same-sex spouses where the domicile provision would otherwise govern.”