NCTE thanks the Social Security Administration for issuing updated guidance that will simplify benefits applications for many transgender people and their spouses, and better ensure correct eligibility determinations.
Until now, all benefits applications involving couples with at least one transgender spouse required legal review by one of SSA’s chief regional attorneys, often adding significant delays. Without clear guidance on applicable law, many benefits applications also received incorrect denials and had to be appealed. With this new guidance, most claims now can be evaluated under the normal application process, without additional and inappropriate scrutiny of the marriage.
Under the new guidance, SSA recognizes that a gender transition does not affect the continuing validity of an existing marriage. Marriages that occurred after a transition will also generally be presumed valid, with additional review needed only for claims from a handful of states. Unlike many other federal programs, Social Security law requires that marriage-related benefits be determined based on the law of the state where you live. Accordingly, SSA still has to determine, in many cases, whether to treat a marriage as a same-sex marriage or a different-sex marriage.
For marriages that occurred in a state where same-sex couples may marry, the applicant will be asked, “Did you enter a same-sex or an opposite-sex marriage?” and processed accordingly. For all other claims, a valid different-sex marriage will be assumed.
Only claims for individuals living in seven states (Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas), and where a spouse transitioned prior to the marriage, will require a special legal review. Claims from certain territories (American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands) also still require additional review. Claims from these states still require review because SSA has determined that the law regarding transgender people and marriage is sufficiently unclear in these states to make case-by-case review necessary.
The new guidance complements other recent SSA guidance designed to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
NCTE has worked with SSA on this issue over the last few years, and we believe the new policy will make obtaining Social Security benefits significantly easier for many transgender people and their loved ones, and will make SSA’s work more efficient. NCTE will continue to urge other agencies, especially the Veterans Administration, to adopt a similar approach.
Read the updated guidelines here.