Millions of opposite-sex couples nationwide enjoy Social Security benefits, including survivor benefits. While getting those by no means can compensate for the loss of a loved one, it provides the support necessary for maintaining somewhat life normalcy. The benefit has, however, been long denied for same-sex couples, especially in times when marriage was illegal for them. While this discrimination has already become history, some same-sex couples and widowers had to fight for their rights in court.
It took years for a court ruling to be made, but the precedent created is about to change widespread practice forever. The turning-point decision came from Arizona when Michael Ely was qualified for survivor benefits following the death of his life-long partner James A. Taylor. While the couple was together for 43 years, they were legally married for only 6 months following Arizona legislation change in 2014. That is precisely on these grounds Michael was denied getting the benefit based on Social Security Administration policies.
Benefits equality has been finally restored by Arizona Bruce Macdonald, Magistrate Judge. “Because the duration of marriage requirement is based on an unconstitutional Arizona law, it cannot withstand scrutiny at any level. The unconstitutional infringement on Mr. Ely and Mr. Taylor’s fundamental right to marriage is now being perpetuated further by the denial of Mr. Ely to obtain survivor’s benefits,” read his decision. Michael was visibly happy with the ruling. “I know he can rest easier now knowing that I, at last, will start receiving the same benefits as other widowers,” he said. While it took an incredible 6 years to resolve this fundamental issue, the decision will pave a path for similar cases heard across the US, including those in North Carolina (Harvey Lucas and Fred Colosimo) and Washington (Helen Thornton and Marge Brown). There is a lot of work ahead for the courts across the country to restore equality for LGBTQ people.