CREDIT: Max Whittaker/Getty Images
The Social Security Administration issued another round of guidance last Friday, implementing the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. The agency posted two sets of guidance for field offices processing claims from same-sex couples, including couples who have entered into a domestic partnership or civil union.
Though this move does not constitute final guidelines on whether individuals in states without marriage equality will be eligible for Social Security benefits, it does allow couples to apply for those benefits and have their claims “held” until the agency issues further guidance – meaning that they will not lose out on benefits that accrue during the time while the agency is developing its standards. Additionally, the guidance clarifies that couples and individuals who have previously been denied benefits because they were in a same-sex relationship can file an appeal challenging the denial.
A second set of guidance provided to field offices addresses “sensitive service” to Social Security applicants and stresses treating couples with “dignity and respect.” Field offices are expected to protect the confidentiality of applicants, refrain from asking invasive questions about relationships, and to use gender-neutral terms to refer to relationships – such as using “spouse” instead of “husband” or “wife,” to avoid assuming the gender of an applicant’s partner.
These two provisions are not going to be the final word from the Social Security Administration on processing claims from same-sex couples. This was stressed by acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin earlier this month, who said, “in the coming weeks and months, [the SSA] will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions.”
For more information on Social Security benefits for same sex couples, visit the Center for American Progress.
Andrew Cray is a Policy Analyst for LGBT Progress.