A Landmark Pro Bono Win: Court Rules for Same-Sex Partners Denied Access to Social Security Survivor’s Benefits
On September 11, 2020, the U.S. District Court in Seattle struck down as unconstitutional the U.S. Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) categorical denial of survivor’s benefits to same-sex partners who were barred from marrying due to discriminatory state marriage bans. While the number of states that allowed same-sex couples to marry gradually increased from 2004 until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all remaining state bans in 2015, that freedom came too late for many couples. The court certified the case as a nationwide class action.
This is the first case to determine the rights of a surviving partner to Social Security spousal benefits where the couple were unable to marry under state law prior to the death of the plaintiff’s partner. News of the win was reported in The Advocate and various other press outlets. Lambda Legal and Nossaman represented the plaintiffs. Lambda Legal’s attorneys working on the case were Peter Renn, Karen Loewy, and Tara Borelli. The Nossaman team included Robert Thornton and Linda Larson.