Court Ruling: Surviving Same-Sex Spouses Eligible for Benefits

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday June 1, 2020

For some same-sex couples, justice delayed was justice denied in that by the time they were able to marry legally (thanks to the 2015 finding by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down barriers to full marriage equality), they weren't able to remain married for the required nine months for a surviving spouse to receive Social Security benefits once the other died.

A court ruling last week has changed that, however, NBC News reports.

To illustrate the dilemma, NBC News told the story of Michael Ely and James Taylor, a male couple who had been together since 1971. By the time they could marry in Arizona, where they lived, in 2014 - before the Supreme Court ruling that made marriage equality a reality in all 50 states - Taylor only had half a year left to live. He died of cancer before the couple's legal marriage had reached the nine-month mark that would have qualified Ely to receive the same benefits that they would have qualified for decades earlier, had they been a heterosexual couple.

NBC News quoted from the ruling handed down by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona:

Because same-sex marriage is a fundamental right, and the underpinnings of the duration-of-marriage requirement have relied on the unconstitutional ban of that right, it cannot be said to be rationally related to a legitimate interest to a surviving spouse such as Mr. Ely.

The men were represented by Lambda Legal.

NBC News reported that two other plaintiffs were also represented in the case:

The other named plaintiffs in the case include Anthony Gonzalez, whose husband, Mark Johnson, died in 2014, and James Obergefell, whose husband, John Arthur, died in 2013. Obergefell was also the plaintiff in the 2015 landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal across the United States.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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