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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 (SSA) 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.

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For several years after the ruling, Social Security policies did preclude survivor benefits for some LGBTQ people who were prohibited from marrying by unconstitutional state laws prior to Obergefell. Following legal challenges, the SSA adopted new rules in late 2021 that expanded benefit eligibility for survivors of such couples.

Survivor benefit rules

In most circumstances, a surviving spouse can claim benefits on a late partner’s earnings record if they are at least 60 years old and had been legally married to the deceased for at least nine months at the time of death. Same-sex partners whose relationships predated Obergefell may qualify for survivor benefits if they meet either of these criteria:

  • They would have been married at the time of their partner’s death if state laws hadn’t prevented them from doing so.

  • They would have been married for at least nine months before the death of a spouse if state law hadn’t prevented them from marrying sooner.

The SSA says it will consider “all available evidence” to determine benefit eligibility for LGBTQ survivors who could not marry in their home states. It may request detailed information about the relationship, such as how long you and your partner were together, whether you owned property or raised children together, and whether you took steps to have the partnership formally recognized.

Social Security will consider requests to reopen benefit claims from same-sex survivors that were rejected under prior policies, even if your partner died decades ago. Contact the SSA to ask about your eligibility.

Civil unions and weddings abroad

Social Security already had procedures in place to consider benefit claims for same-sex couples who sought to create formal ties if they lived in states that did not recognize marriage equality.

For example, many couples opted for alternative legal partnerships such as civil unions. If their status hasn’t changed — that is, if they haven’t married — benefits for such couples depend on whether the laws of a wage earner’s home state give them the same inheritance rights as married couples.

Many Americans wed partners overseas in countries that legalized same-sex marriage before the United States did. Social Security recognizes same-sex marriages and “non-marital legal relationships” established in other countries and has processed benefit claims for such couples, 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 or survivor of a same-sex marriage or civil union, the SSA encourages you to apply anyway, to ensure you don’t lose out on any benefits you may be due.

Call Social Security at 800-772-1213, visit your local field office or consult the SSA publication "What Same-Sex Couples Need to Know" to find out more.

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Keep in mind

  • Social Security field offices fully reopened in April 2022 after being closed to walk-in traffic for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the SSA recommends calling in advance and scheduling an appointment to avoid long waits.

  • 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.

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