Social Security rights for same-sex couples the subject of debate

On behalf of Lake Toback Attorneys

Illinois residents may be curious to know whether those in same-sex civil unions will be able to receive the same Social Security benefits as their married opposite-sex counterparts. The effects of this national debate will determine whether the partners in these relationships will be able to have access to each others’ benefits.

Currently, same-sex couples in Illinois are awaiting a decision from the Social Security Administration as to whether benefits will be accessible by both partners. In an opposite-sex marriage, both spouses currently have access to the other spouse’s Social Security benefits. Though Illinois law imparts all of the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples in registered civil unions, they stop short of calling the civil union a “marriage.” Because of this, there is some question as to whether these unions will count as a marriage with regard to the SSA.

Experts are divided on the subject: One Illinois professor believes that in states where civil unions are allowed in order to replicate marriage, the government could extend these benefits to all registered couples. He notes, however, that this unpredictability could remain until marriage equality is required by federal law. Others argue that civil unions are not the equivalent of marriage and that the push for equality is better served by keeping civil unions an unequal and lesser option. Legislation is currently in the works in the House of Representatives that would require the SSA to extend these benefits to all unions.

As the debate continues and new laws are drafted to bridge the gap between same-sex and heterosexual partnerships, it is important that couples are aware of the rights and benefits they are entitled to under law. An attorney familiar with LGBT issues pertinent to family law may be able to help clarify, assert and defend these rights in the face of new policies.

Source: Windy City Media Group, “Social security questions abound for Illinois civil union couples“, Kate Sosin, August 28, 2013

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Social Security rights for same-sex couples the subject of debate