In a big win for the LGBTQ+ community, a federal district court in Washington state ruled on September 11, 2020 that a woman was eligible for survivor’s benefits on the record of her late partner, who died before same-sex marriage was legal (Thornton v. Commissioner of SSA No.C18-1409 JLR (W.D.Wa. Sept. 11, 2020)).
The plaintiff filed for benefits from her 27 year relationship with her partner who had a much stronger work record in 2015, but Social Security denied those benefits noting that they were not legally married, even though state law prevented them from marrying. The plaintiff filed suit in 2018. Judge James Robart ruled that denial of benefits violated the U.S. Constitution. Judge Robart also certified the case as a national class action for others who have sought benefits and been denied simply because they were unable to marry their partner. This will allow them an avenue to make claim for those benefits.
The plaintiff has asserted that she would have married her partner had it been legal and was represented by Lambda Legal and Nossaman, LLP. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare also joined the case. Additionally, the plaintiff noted that she and her partner had both gladly paid into the Social Security system through their jobs and felt relief at knowing she was entitled to the same financial protections of other surviving spouses.
Additional cases are pending in other states regarding same-sex couples and survivors’ benefits. This case could provide argument for future claims in states that currently do not acknowledge same-sex marriage. Previous cases have been won, but they were not certified as national class actions. Judge Robart has ordered the Social Security Administration to re-adjudicate claims for survivors benefits and refrain from denying class members’ claims solely on the basis that class members were not married to their same-sex partner.
At Gardberg and Kemmerly, we stay up to date on all types of disability claims. If you have a claim for disability and need assistance, please call our office at 251-343-1111 for a free consultation on your VA and/or SSA claim. Gardberg & Kemmerly specializes in helping the injured and disabled in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana.