Court Rule To Support Gay Partners Denied Social Security Survivor Benefits

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A Washington State citizen won gay people whose partners died before Obergefell v. Hodges access to more social security rights.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, federal judge James L. Robart of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in favor of Marge Brown and Helen Thornton. After Brown died in 2006, Thornton struggled to support herself. The reason being, Brown had a more extensive work record. Thornton then applied for survivor’s benefits in 2015 right before she turned 60 and would have been eligible to receive them.

Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration refused Thornton’s application because the two were not married before Brown’s passing. This is due to gay marriage being legalized in the state six years after Brown’s death and across the United States of America ten years later. Thornton then filed the lawsuit in 2018 and fought for two years before receiving this win.

The court “believes that the appropriate form of relief to provide to the class is an order that requires the Administration to (1) re-adjudicate class members’ claims for survivor’s benefits, and (2) refrain from denying class members’ claims solely on the basis that class members were not married to their same-sex partner,” wrote Judge Robart

“We are delighted for Helen and similarly situated same-sex partners nationwide who can no longer be treated as strangers in death to their loved ones,” said Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn, who represented Thornton. “Many of these couples built enduring relationships with each other that spanned decades, and they would have been honored to assume the mantle of marriage, thereby qualifying for survivor’s benefits. Today, one more legacy of discriminatory marriage bans has been struck down and surviving same-sex partners will no longer be robbed of their earned benefits.”

“Margie and I were fortunate to share 27 years of love and commitment together on this earth, and I’m gratified that the judge understood that, even though we were barred from marriage, our love and commitment was no different than that between heterosexual couples who had the freedom to marry,” said Helen Thornton. “We gladly paid into the Social Security system through our jobs, and it is an enormous relief to know I’m entitled to the same financial protections that are available to surviving spouses.”

According to the Seattle Lesbian, Thornton is now-semi-retired and takes care of animals, along with her modest monthly Social Security income, to help pay for her expenses. Now she will not only be able to support herself more stably, but she has set a precedent for other same-sex survivors in similar circumstances.


Source: the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Lesbian,

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