Rejoice, libertarians, in the expansion of a federal benefit program!
Sorry, couldn’t resist presenting it that way because it makes some folks gnash their teeth. The Supreme Court ruling in Windsor v. United States earlier this year requires the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it’s been legalized. As a result, federal benefits extended on the basis of marital status now apply to many gay couples as well. This week, the Social Security Administration announced it has begun paying survivor benefits to qualifying widows and widowers. Courtesy of AlJazeera America:
"I am pleased to announce that, effective today, Social Security is processing some widow’s and widower’s claims by surviving members of same-sex marriages and paying benefits where they are due,” said Carolyn Colvin, the acting commissioner of Social Security, in a statement.
“In addition, we are able to pay some one-time lump sum death benefit claims to surviving same-sex spouses," said Colvin. "As I stated shortly after the Supreme Court decision on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, our goal is to treat all Americans with dignity and respect.”
Anyone who was married to their partner at the time he or she died, or anyone who was legally married for at least 10 years but later divorced, is eligible for Social Security benefits.
But Social Security uses a state's definition of marriage to determine eligibility. Consequently, a couple that married in a state where gay marriage is legal, but lives in a state that does not recognize their marriage, would not be considered married under current rules.
I know there are many libertarians who are frustrated that recognizing same-sex marriages has the additional impact of getting the federal government more involved in more people’s private lives rather than less, but that’s a completely separate fight. By all means, let’s work on unwinding these various tax-based benefits and burdens from marital status and legal recognition of private relationships. In the meantime, though, gays aren’t exempt from paying Social Security, so their relationships should get the same treatment.