All Same-Sex Spouses Entitled to Social Security Spousal and Survivors Benefits and Other Federal Benefits

Two recent United States Supreme Court cases—the first (U.S. v. Windsor) ordering the payment of federal benefits to same-sex married couples, the second (Obergefell v. Hodges) upholding the constitutional right to same-sex marriage—have made clear that same-sex spouses are entitled to federal benefits such as Social Security dependents and survivors payments, veterans spousal benefits, federal retirement spousal benefits, and Medicare, on exactly the same terms as for other spouses. This is true regardless of whether the couple lives in the state where the marriage was performed.

Retroactivity. These benefits may be available retroactively to same-sex married couples who filed for Social Security benefits before June 26, 2015, the date of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. The Department of Justice and the Social Security Administration have decided in several cases that the right to spousal benefits for a same-sex spouse may apply to someone who applied for such benefits before June 26, 2015. If you were married and applied for spousal benefits before that date but were denied those benefits (because you lived in a state that did not recognize your marriage), reapply to Social Security or the VA specifically requesting retroactive benefits back to the date you first applied.

Foreign marriages. A spouse in a same-sex couple who was married outside the United States but now lawfully lives in the U.S. might be entitled to Social Security dependents or survivors benefits based on the other spouse’s work record in the U.S., depending on the status of that marriage in the country where it was performed. Even if you have doubts about your right to dependents benefits as a same-sex spouse, the Social Security Administration encourages you to apply for them so that the agency can determine whether you are eligible. The same goes for VA spousal benefits and federal retirement spousal benefits.