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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 11, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 11
Lesbian widow wins Social Security benefits

SSA agrees to comply with Obergefell decision
Section One
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Lesbian widow wins Social Security benefits

SSA agrees to comply with Obergefell decision

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Lesbian widow has finally won Social Security survivor benefits after the Social Security Administration (SSA) settled a lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal.

Texas residents Kathy Murphy and Sara Barker were a committed couple for more than 30 years, eventually marrying in Massachusetts in 2010.

In March 2012, however, Barker died of cancer, leaving Murphy a widow. Because the couple lived in Texas, which did not recognize their marriage at the time of Barker's death, the SSA also refused to recognize their marriage.

The SSA ruling meant that Murphy was denied Social Security spousal survivor benefits earned by Barker over a lifetime of work, benefits that would have been hers had the couple lived in a state that recognized same-sex marriage.

Lambda Legal sued the SSA on Murphy's behalf and also on behalf of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a national advocacy organization.

In a March 8 press release, Lambda Legal announced that they had settled with the SSA, winning Murphy the benefits she sought.

'The Social Security Administration has finally adjusted Kathy's monthly SSA benefit to recognize the reality that she was married to her wife Sara and is a widow entitled to the same treatment as other survivors,' Lambda Legal Director of Constitutional Litigation Susan Sommer said in a statement.

'We are also pleased to announce that the SSA has finally updated its instructions to its staff in accordance with the historic Obergefell v. Hodges ruling last June.

'The SSA has also issued other guidance to staff to manage claims from the LGBT community. With this good news, including the SSA's long-awaited changes to its policies to conform to Obergefell, we are hopeful that LGBT widows, widowers, and retirees, wherever they live, will be able to receive the Social Security spousal benefits to which they are entitled.

'LGBT people, who earned benefits through years of hard work, deserve to receive them without further delay and at long last to have their relationships treated with dignity by the federal government. Although the SSA still needs to update some of its instructions and practices to fully recognize LGBT families and their rights to benefits, these recent developments come as a very welcome step. We call on the SSA to prioritize awarding benefits to the many LGBT people who were unfairly denied them in the past.'

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