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Suing for same-sex death benefits

Married people receive death benefits when their spouses die. Unless your marriage isn’t recognized as legal by the state you live in. That’s the basis of this lawsuit.


An Austin woman filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to halt the Social Security Administration’s practice of withholding spousal benefits from gay couples who reside in states, like Texas, that ban same-sex marriage.

Kathy Murphy’s lawsuit argued that the practice perpetuates discrimination and unconstitutionally deprives same-sex couples of equal treatment under the law.

“With increasing frequency, state and federal executives and courts — including the United States Supreme Court — have recognized the patent discrimination and affront to dignity faced by same-sex couples whose families are denied the protections of marriage,” the lawsuit said.

Murphy and Sara Barker, Austin residents since 1984, were married in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions are legal, in 2010 after 30 years as a couple.

But after Barker died of cancer in 2012 at age 62, Murphy was denied spousal and death benefits because the Social Security agency determines whether couples are married based on the laws of the state where they live, not where they were married, according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“SSA’s incorporation of discriminatory state laws tells same-sex couples living in those states that their valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition and equal treatment,” said the lawsuit, filed by lawyers with Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights legal advocacy organization.

Texas Politics has a copy of the suit. There are three other federal lawsuits against Texas’ same sex marriage ban that have been filed and are still active in the courts. One is DeLeon v. Perry, in which the ban was ruled unconstitutional and is awaiting an appellate hearing from the Fifth Circuit. The other two were filed in Austin and are separate from DeLeon despite Greg Abbott’s efforts to combine them. I’m assuming the two Austin suits have been combined, but I couldn’t verify that. Yet another lawsuit, this one filed in state court and having to do with parental and custodial rights, also resulted in a ruling that declared Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. That one is awaiting appeal in the state’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. One would think this one would be straightforward given all that has gone on before it, but you never know. The one thing we do know is that Greg Abbott can’t wait to “just do his job”, which in this case involves defending the federal government. So ironic. Anyway, here’s Lambda Legal’s blog post and press release about the lawsuit, and Lone Star Q has more.

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