Social Security starts accepting same-sex marriage claims

The Social Security Administration announced Friday that it would begin accepting benefit claims related to same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court in June found the heart of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. It ruled that the federal government couldn't treat same-sex marriages approved by some states any differently than heterosexual marriages.

The ruling affects more than 1,000 federal regulations on everything from tax breaks to entitlement benefits.

Prior to the ruling, an individual in a same-sex marriage was unable to claim survivor benefits from Social Security when a spouse died, and a couple was unable to claim a 50-percent Social Security marriage bonus to their retirement benefits.

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“The President has directed the Attorney General to work with other members of his Cabinet to review the recent Supreme Court decision and determine its impact on Federal benefit programs – including benefits administered by Social Security – to ensure that we implement the decision swiftly and smoothly,” Social Security Administration spokesman Mark Hinkle said. 

He said the agency was working with the Justice Department to revise its regulations.

“We are taking claims now from individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits. We will process these claims as soon as we have finalized our instructions,” Hinkle said. 

The DOMA ruling could end up reducing the federal budget deficit even though there will likely be an increase in Social Security spending.  Most high-income married couples face a tax penalty when filing tax returns jointly.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last looked at the issue in 2004 and has not done so since. The CBO said at the time that allowing gay marriage could reduce the deficit by up to $10 billion over the following 10 years.   

The CBO’s report predicted that most same-sex marriages would feature couples where both individuals qualify for Social Security benefits independently. Such couples would not receive the 50-percent spousal bonus and, therefore, would not trigger increased spending in that category.