In November 2018, Tucson attorneys Brian Clymer and Autumn Menard, along with co-counsel Lambda Legal, filed a lawsuit against Social Security on behalf of Michael Ely, then a 65-year-old gay widower, who was denied spousal survivor’s benefits despite his 43-year relationship with his husband.
Now, through a motion for class certification, Lambda Legal, along with co-counsel Clymer and Menard, has asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona to provide relief to all surviving same-sex spouses denied equal access to Social Security survivor’s benefits.
The Social Security Administration imposes a nine-month marriage requirement even where same-sex couples were not able to be married for nine month because of discriminatory marriage laws.
“Our clients and many others who were in loving, long-term, and committed relationships — in some cases for more than 40 years — have been denied equal access to these critical survivor’s benefits, paid for through a lifetime of work, based on circumstance wholly beyond their control,” Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn said in a press release. “The government considers them legal strangers here, rather than widows and widowers, even if they married as soon as they were able to.”
Ely, married his partner of 43 years, James Taylor, immediately after Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down in 2014. Taylor died of cancer six months later. Ely started the application for survivor benefits but was told by Social Security that he did not qualify. “It was such a shock, to be told your relationship of 43 years means nothing,” Ely said.
The lawsuit against Social Security seeks to provide relief to same-sex couples harmed by the discriminatory marriage requirement.