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Social Security is an essential source of income for many older Americans. Starting in 1939, surviving spouses and dependents were able to receive their deceased spouse’s social security benefits, helping alleviate poverty among those whose spouses had passed away. These survivor’s benefits helped countless seniors purchase necessary items like food. To qualify for survivor’s benefits, a person must have been married to a working spouse for at least nine months before that spouse’s death.

With same-sex marriage banned in much of the county until 2015, survivors in same-sex couples were denied the ability to obtain this Social Security Survivor Benefit. Even after same-sex marriage bans were declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 2015, many surviving same sex spouses continued to be denied this benefit. This discrimination deprived survivors of same-sex marriages and partnerships an important financial benefit.

After two lawsuits challenged these denials, the Social Security Administration (SSA) finally expanded social security survivor benefits to surviving members of same sex relationships. To receive the survivor’s benefits, the survivor must show that they were in a committed relationship and that they would have gotten married to their partner had they been able to do so. In addition, the SSA can no longer deny benefits to same sex couples who were not able to be married for nine months or more because of the unconstitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Eligible individuals should start the application process to receive social security survivor benefits now, even if their partner or spouse died a long time ago.


To learn if you are eligible for this benefit, contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.

For more information about this expanded benefit, please call Contra Costa Senior Legal Services at (925) 609-7900.