As the result of two class action lawsuits that were successfully brought by the surviving partners of same-sex relationships Social Security has changed its policy on eligibility for Survivor’s Benefits.
Helen Thornton was in a long-term relationship with her partner, Margery Brown, but due to the rules at the time they were together they were never allowed to marry. Under the old rules, as they were never married, Ms. Thornton had no rights to Survivor’s Benefits when Brown died. She fought for her rights to those benefits and it is her case, Thornton vs Commissioner of Social Security, that provided the decision that now allows surviving partners to claim benefits that were previously denied them due to the archaic rules that did not allow same-sex marriage.
In much the same vein, Michael Ely was denied Survivor’s Benefits as he had not been married for the required nine months before his partner died. Ely and his partner, James ‘Spider’ Taylor, were together for 43 years and married as soon as the state of Arizona, where they lived, allowed gay marriage. Taylor died 6 months after the wedding. The lawsuit brought on behalf of Ely, Ely vs Saul, led to the ruling that Social Security’s refusal to allow Ely Survivors Benefits was unconstitutional. As with the Thornton case, the court determined it a nationwide class action.
Social Security are now endeavoring to make the change known to everyone.
If you were in a same-sex relationship and would have been married at the time of their partner’s death if state laws had allowed it; or if you would have been married for at least nine months but for those old rules that prevented marriage, you are encouraged to contact your local office to apply. You can also reach out through the general number at 1-800-772-1213.