Feds guarantee benefits for same-sex couples

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

With rogue clerks and Republican governors flouting the Supreme Court order on marriage equality, a coalition of 57 federal lawmakers asked the Justice Department to intervene and protect same-sex couples’ rights and access to benefits in all 50 states.

Meanwhile, on July 9, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch confirmed that all federal marriage benefits will be available to same-sex couples nationwide.

Lynch, in a news release provided by the White House, said, “Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell that every couple has the same right to participate in the institution of marriage, whether the partners are of the same-sex or opposite sexes, I directed Justice Department staff to work with the agencies to ensure that the ruling be given full effect across the federal government.”

Lynch said this includes access to critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not extend benefits to married same-sex couples residing in states that barred recognition of their marriages.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor, meaning the federal government must recognize lawfully married same-sex couples. Then the Obama administration implemented the Windsor decision and most federal agencies began to recognize legally married same-sex couples regardless of where they lived.

However, because of certain provisions in federal law, some agencies — including the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs — were unable to recognize same-sex couples living in states without marriage equality. With the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, marriage equality is the law of the land in all 50 states and the barriers were removed.

“From Texas to Michigan and Montana to Florida, married same-sex couples across this country will finally have full access to federal benefits that had previously been denied them,” said David Stacy of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “We applaud Attorney General Lynch for her leadership in working to ensure these critical programs — from Social Security to veterans benefits — are finally extended to all legally married couples.”

Meanwhile, members of Congress on July 9 urged the Justice Department to take action against state and local officials who are denying same-sex couples their constitutionally protected rights. 

The lawmakers were responding to reports that some governors, state legislators, judges and clerks are refusing to allow same-sex couples to marry or refusing couples the full benefits of marriage.

Out U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, signed onto the letter to the Justice Department. He said, “This contempt for people who want nothing more than to be happy with their loved ones is an affront to our Constitution.”

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 cleared the way for all the bans on same-sex marriage to fall. The case consolidated challenges to marriage bans in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan but the decision also impacted bans in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, most of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Puerto Rico.