On Nov. 1, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Social Security Administration (SSA) dismissed their Ninth Circuit appeals of two nationwide class-action suits that Lambda Legal won.
The original ruling was in favor of surviving same-sex spouses and partners who were denied equal access to Social Security survivor's benefits.
This development affects individuals who were unable to meet the requirement for survivor's benefits that they be married for a minimum of nine months because of marriage laws. Last year, federal district courts in Arizona and Washington struck down these individuals' exclusion from benefits as unconstitutional in response to Lambda Legal lawsuits.
Lambda Legal filed the class actions in 2018: one on behalf of surviving same-sex spouses who married their loved ones but were prevented from being married for nine months (Ely v. Saul), and the other on behalf of surviving same-sex partners who were prevented from marrying their loved ones at all (Thornton v. Saul). For the first time, surviving same-sex partners who were barred from marrying when their partners were alive have the same pathway to benefits if they apply now or in the future as those protected by last year's ruling in Thornton, which had been limited to people who had previously applied by November 2020.
"We commend the Biden administration for respecting the constitutional rights of same-sex couples and choosing the right side of history. No one should continue to pay the price for past discrimination. Today's development ensures that the door stays open for seniors who were wrongly locked out from critical benefits because of discriminatory laws," said Lambda Legal counsel Peter Renn.
"This a historic development with immense implications: survivor's benefits are now equally available to everyone, including potentially thousands of same-sex partners who could not marry their loved ones and may have thought it was futile to apply."