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Can same-sex married couples get Social Security benefits?

Yes. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges established a nationwide right for same-sex couples to wed. As a result, the Social Security Administration recognizes same-sex marriages in all states; same-sex spouses who wed in the United States are entitled to the same spousal, survivor and death benefits as any other married couple.   

Before same-sex marriage was recognized as a constitutional right, many couples opted for alternative legal partnerships such as civil unions. If their status hasn’t changed — that is, if they haven’t married — Social Security benefits for such couples depend on whether the laws of a wage earner’s home state give them the same inheritance rights as heterosexual married couples.

Many Americans wed partners overseas in countries that legalized same-sex marriage before the United States did. Social Security states that it “recognize[s] same-sex marriages and some non-marital legal relationships established in foreign jurisdictions” for the purpose of benefit decisions. Social Security has processed such claims, but it may require an opinion from its legal office when receiving the first claim involving a marriage in a particular country.

If you’re unsure whether you qualify for benefits as a partner in a same-sex marriage or civil union, Social Security encourages you to apply to ensure you don’t lose out on any benefits you may be due. If you have any questions about your eligibility, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or visit your local office. You can also find out more in the Social Security publication “What Same-Sex Couples Need to Know.”

Keep in mind

  • The Obergefell decision does not specifically address the rights of same-sex couples in common-law marriages. The Social Security status of such couples may be determined by court rulings in states that recognize common-law marriage.

Published October 10, 2018

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