The Social Security Administration announced on Friday that it will begin offering partner benefits to same-sex couples, but in a limited capacity, adding that it has additional “policy and processing instructions” to develop over the coming months. As BuzzFeed reports, however, the benefits will not be applied as consistently as some other federal benefits have been made available to same-sex couples since the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.
For now at least, only married same-sex couples who live in a state that recognizes their marriages will be eligible to receive the Social Security spousal benefit. This is inconsistent with other benefits, such as recognition for immigration purposes, which rely entirely on “place of celebration.” In other words, a same-sex couple could marry in Minnesota and move next door to North Dakota, and one spouse could still sponsor the other for a green card, but that spouse couldn’t receive spousal Social Security benefits because they’re in a state without marriage equality.
A growing patchwork of federal rights is now available for same-sex couples, but the inconsistency adds significantly to the case for marriage equality in more states. For example, benefits for federal employees offered through the Office of Personnel Management do not apply to civil unions, implicating states like Illinois and New Jersey to upgrade their relationship recognition. Similarly, couples who even marry elsewhere will not be able to move to those states and receive Social Security. This puts particular pressure on New Jersey, which claims that it recognizes marriages as civil unions as justification for not recognizing marriages as marriages. In addition, it’s unsettled in New Mexico whether a same-sex marriage from another state might be recognized, a decision a court may have to make before Social Security benefits can be claimed.