Social Security benefits and same-sex marriage

Impact on same-sex couples
Impact on same-sex couples © Jo Ann Snover/

The finances of same-sex marriage partners were often crippled because their unions were not legally recognized under DOMA. One example: "For every $100 in retirement benefits a month they did not have access to," Rae says, "a gay couple had to save $24,000 or so to be in the same position at retirement as an opposite-sex couple who is depending on Social Security."

That $24,000 is the lump-sum amount needed to generate the $100 monthly income, assuming a withdrawal rate of 5 percent.

After the Supreme Court decision, it was thought that legally married gay couples might run into obstacles collecting Social Security benefits if they subsequently moved to a state that did not recognize their marriage. But the ruling Aug. 29 by the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department, which recognizes the legal marriages of same-sex couples no matter where they live, will likely pave the way for other federal agencies to follow its lead.

In a statement released in early August, Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security, said the agency is working closely with the Department of Justice, and expects to "develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions" in the coming weeks and months. "I encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits," she says. "We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized."


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