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GLAD Sues Social Security Administration For Lesbian Widow Social Security Benefits - VIDEO

Tevyaw Baker

On Monday, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) filed a lawsuit on behalf of a lesbian widow seeking parity of Social Security benefits for married same-sex couples, reports Washington Blade.

The litigation was filed by GLAD in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island on behalf of 56-year-old Deborah Tevyaw, who was denied spousal disability benefits and a lump sum death payment from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

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In 2005, Tevyaw was married in Massachusetts to Patricia Baker. Baker died in 2011 following a battle against lung cancer. In her final months, she lobbied for the legalization of gay marriage in Rhode Island, testifying on the issue before the state Senate.

However, despite the legality of the marriage, Tevyaw was denied benefits upon her Baker’s death. The SSA at first asserted the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) blocked her from receiving benefits. However, even after the Supreme Court ruled Section 3 of the law was unconstitutional, the SSA allegedly continued to deny Tevyaw benefits on the basis that Rhode Island wouldn’t have recognized her marriage at the time of Baker’s death.

Tevyaw has since been living on a monthly income of $732 and was forced to sell her home she owned for more than 38 years because she can’t afford the mortgage.

In a statement, Tevyaw said:

“I’ve lost my wife and my best friend, and Social Security has made that so much worse by telling me that in their eyes, I was not Pat’s wife. Not only is that hurtful and insulting, it has meant that I am living in poverty. I am not looking for a handout; this is money that Pat earned through hard work.”

The lawsuit also notes Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee’s executive order on May 24, 2012 recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages and contends the directive should apply to Tevyaw’s marriage even though Chaffee signed it before Baker’s death.

SSA spokesperson William “BJ” Jarrett said the agency agrees the issue behind the lawsuit “deserves additional consideration. He added that the SSA plans to review its policy manuals based on analysis of Rhode Island state common law.

Watch a 2012 interview with Tevyaw and Baker, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "GLAD Sues Social Security Administration For Lesbian Widow Social Security Benefits - VIDEO" »


Friday Speed Read: Mississippi, Mozilla, Social Security, Colorado, Marriage Equality

BY LISA KEEN / Keen News Service

BryantMISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR SIGNS:

Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act Thursday, saying it “will protect the individual religious freedom of Mississippians of all faiths from government interference.” The ACLU says the law, though less problematic than in its original form, “could still open the door for someone who wants to use their religion to discriminate against others.” “We remain hopeful that courts throughout the state will reject any attempts to use religion to justify discrimination.” The law takes effect July 1.

EichMOZILLA APOLOGIZES WITH RESIGNATION:

The Mozilla software company that operates the Firefox browser issued an apology Thursday for failing to “move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started.” The controversy centered around Mozilla’s new CEO Brenden Eich, who gave a $1,000 contribution in support of Proposition 8 in California. Some staff and board members objected when Eich was named CEO on March 24, and that protest quickly spread to outsiders. The Mozilla statement issued yesterday said Eich “has chosen to step down from his role as CEO…. for Mozilla and our community.” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said, “Mozilla’s strong statement in favor of equality today reflects where corporate America is: inclusive, safe, and welcoming to all."

SOCIAL SECURITY STILL ROLLING: 

The Social Security Administration continued its rollout yesterday of new regulations affecting same-sex couples, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision last June to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. The Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that the SSA is now able to process requests “for certain eligible people in same-sex marriages” for Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance). For details, see HHS website.

ColoradoTHE PROFIT OF MARRIAGE:

The Williams Institute, an LGBT research think tank based at UCLA, released a report Thursday showing that the state of Colorado’s economy stands to gain millions from legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. The calculation is based on taking the Census data estimate of how many same-sex couples live in Colorado (12,424), anticipating half will want to marry within the first few years they are able to in the state, and presuming same-sex couples will spend less than one-fourth the $26,000 straight couples do on weddings in Colorado. These couples and their guests would spend an estimated $50 million during those first three years, supporting 436 jobs.

WHETHER TO MARRY:

A new book out by lawyer-activist Scott Squillace offers practical considerations for couples contemplating marriage. Much of the advice would apply whether the couples are straight or gay: such as how couples with disparate incomes might result in lower taxes while those where both earn high incomes might pay higher taxes if married. But for same-sex couples specifically, the book examines which federal agencies have limited marriage-related benefits for couples living in marriage equality states and which have yet to publish post-Windsor regulations regarding such matters. The self-published book is available through amazon.com.


Lesbian Parents Not Recognized As Married, Son Denied Social Security Benefits: VIDEO

Lisa and Melody Rawson and son

Lisa and Melody Rawson of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina have an adopted son who suffers from multiple medical conditions, including spina bifida. When they were living in New York they received a monthly $600 social security check to cover the cost of his medical expenses. However, the New York winters were too harsh for him so this past September they moved to South Carolina, at which point they promptly stopped receiving any benefits at all.

The reason? South Carolina's state computer system won't allow Lisa and Melody to both be listed as his parents. As a result the paperwork cannot be processed, so their son's medical benefits are denied by default. The Rawsons have tried contacting Social Security, the Justice Department, and Congress but allege being given the runaround.

You can see a video interview with the Rawsons AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Lesbian Parents Not Recognized As Married, Son Denied Social Security Benefits: VIDEO" »


Social Security Administration Initiates Processing of Widow and Widower Benefits to Surviving Gay Spouses

Statement of Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, released the following statement this morning:

Ssa"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. In addition, we are able to pay some one-time lump sum death benefit claims to surviving same-sex spouses. 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.

We ask for continued patience from the public as we work closely with the Department of Justice to develop policies that are legally sound so we can process claims.

If you believe you may be eligible for Social Security, I encourage you to apply now to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized."

Learn more here.


For Now, Social Security Benefits Limited to Same-Sex Couples in Marriage Equality States

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Some big, late-night news this weekend from BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner: new policy guidelines established by the Social Security Adminstration after the Supreme Court's invalidation of the Defense of Marriage Act will limit benefits to only those same-sex couples who live in states with marriage equality. From Geidner's report:

As of Friday, a new section for “Windsor Same-Sex Marriage Claims” — named after the Supreme Court case of United States v. Windsor, which resulted in a part of the Defense of Marriage Act being struck down — was added to the Social Security Administration’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS), which the agency describes as the primary source of information used by Social Security employees to process claims for Social Security benefits.

The claims processing instructions “allow for payment of claims” when the claimant “was married in a state that permits same-sex marriage” and “is domiciled at the time of application, or while the claim is pending a final determination, in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.”

As Geidner points out, the SSA had announced in a press release earlier late day that it would be making "some" payments to same-sex couples in valid marriages and praised the Supreme Court's ruling as a victory for fairness and equality.

In an update to his post early Saturday morning, Geidner linked to Volokh Conspiracy blogger Will Baude, who hypothesized in his own post on the legal analysis site that the SSA's decision was predicated in part on a specific statute pertaining to marital law as it applies to social security claims:

An applicant is the wife, husband, widow, or widower of a fully or currently insured individual for purposes of this title if the courts of the State in which such insured individual is domiciled at the time such applicant files an application.  [emphasis Baude's]

In response to the Supreme Court's DOMA decision, a majority of federal agencies--such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Personnel Management--have opted to look to the laws of the state in which a couple was married as opposed to the state of the couple's residence in order to determine marital status. These determinations have taken place largely through executive review alone.

If Baude is correct, however, the SSA's hands may essentially be tied by the statute in question. That would mean any fix for the issue will likely need to be a legislative one.


Social Security Administration Makes Strides In Transgender Rights, Removes Surgical Requirement

According to new regulations published by the Social Security Administration, transgender individuals will no longer be required to demonstrate surgical reassignment in order to change gender designation on official documents. The new
regulation is a big step for the transgender community. Salon reports:

SSC“This is a tremendous victory for our community,” Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center, said in a statement. “The Social Security Administration was one of the last agencies to hold onto an outdated, one-size-fits-all standard for gender change. Transgender people will now be able to change all their federal documents with a simple letter from their doctor recognizing that they have undergone the appropriate treatment for them.”

The letter in question is a far more preferable, and private, mode of official recognition.

...the administration will accept a letter from the person’s doctor confirming that they have undergone “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition,” but, as the National Center for Transgender Equality notes, “no specific type of treatment is required, and details of your treatment should not be included in the letter from your physician to the SSA.”

By increasing the options for legitimate recognition of gender reassignment, the SSA has taken a significant step toward reducing the bureaucratic processes which have made transgender individuals second-class citizens. Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Mara Keisling, recognizes the gravity of the new regulation:

“Most people may not see this as a big deal, but transgender people know that this seemingly small technical change will protect their privacy and give them more control over their own lives” she said in a statement celebrating the change.

Here's hoping that even more significant changes are underway and that discrimination will continue to slowly be disbanded.

Image courtesy of nyc.gov.


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