US extends federal benefits to all married same-sex couples

US extends federal benefits to all married same-sex couples
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Federal marriage benefits will be extended to married same-sex couples nationwide, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement Thursday.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that gave every couple, gay or straight, the same right to marriage, Lynch said she’s directed the Justice Department staff to work with the agencies to ensure the ruling is given the full effect across the federal government.

“Thanks to their leadership and the quick work of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, today I am proud to announce that the critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not give effect to the marriages of couples living in states that did not recognize those marriages, will now provide federal recognition for all marriages nationwide,” she said. 

“The agencies are currently working towards providing guidance to implement this change in law.”  

Now that the Constitution requires marriage equality, Lynch said the Justice Department will make sure federal benefits are made available equally to married couples in all 50 states.

Lynch's announcement comes one year after DOJ first implemented the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2013 U.S. v. Windsor case, which struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

That ruling required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages that took place in states where the unions were legal — the so-called place of celebration rule.

To comply, the IRS allowed qualifying same-sex couples to file joint tax returns, the Department of Defense allowed same-sex spouses of military service members to receive the same benefits as opposite-sex couples, and the Department of Homeland Security allowed citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor same-sex spouses for immigration benefits.

But before Thursday, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs had still been prohibited by federal statute from adopting a celebration rule for certain programs.

How much it will cost the social Security Administration and Veterans Affairs to extend benefits to all same-sex spouses is unclear. DOJ said cost estimates have not yet been done.

— This story was updated at 12:27 p.m.