Thanks to rulings in both Oregon and Pennsylvania striking down bans on same-sex marriage, May was quite a month of joy for the loving, committed LGBT couples in those states, and for all of us who respect and support them. These rulings were also joyous news for many residents of states that don't allow same-sex marriage, such as Colorado and Wisconsin. With the addition of each new marriage-equality state, loving couples have more options to travel to a nearby jurisdiction that will allow them to officially declare their commitment to each other under law.
As we kick off this Pride Month, it's hard to believe how far we've come since the Supreme Court overturned the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) nearly one year ago. But while that decision paved the way for married same-sex couples to receive equal access to federal protections and benefits, many couples who have crossed state lines to tie the knot or have moved from marriage-equality states to those that don't recognize their marriage are still fighting for equal treatment under federal law. When it comes to Social Security spousal benefits, for example -- including survivor benefits -- a couple is only able to receive these federal benefits if they're currently living in a state that recognizes their marriage.
For the thousands of committed couples living in states that don't recognize their marriage, the Social Security Administration has put federal-benefit applications on hold -- even though the Supreme Court stated that the federal government may not create two classes of marriage. This means some families are going without benefits they've earned -- including survivor benefits after the death of loved ones.
The loving commitment embodied in the bond of marriage doesn't waver, weaken or change from state to state. To suggest that some married couples should be denied the federal benefits they've earned, especially at a time of devastating loss, is simply wrong.
But we have a plan to make this right. While we believe the Social Security Administration can -- and should -- resolve this inconsistency through administrative action, we have come together to introduce a bipartisan, common-sense fix to ensure equal access to earned benefits for all families.
The Social Security and Marriage Equality (SAME) Act amends the Social Security Act to ensure that all legally married same-sex spouses receive equal treatment when applying for Social Security benefits, regardless of where they live.
While the Obama administration has made significant strides toward equal treatment of all marriages under federal law, legal marriages should not dissolve for purposes of federal benefits based on a family's decision to move. Put simply, equality should not end at state lines. The current delay of spousal benefit claims is in conflict with last year's Supreme Court decision, it places an economic and emotional burden on the families of legally married same-sex couples, and it is inconsistent with the practice of other federal departments and agencies. The Internal Revenue Service and the Departments of Defense, Justice, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development are all examples of executive branch entities that respect lawful same-sex marriages regardless of a couple's place of residence.
Your zip code should not determine whether or not your family will have the means to survive after the death of a spouse -- and it shouldn't prevent your family from getting the benefits you have earned. There is no excuse for the federal government to continue withholding any federal benefits from legally married same-sex couples.
UPDATE: Just hours after this post was published, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in Rep. Ron Kind's home state of Wisconsin.