Christianna SilvaDecember 2018
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An Arizona lawsuit might change the way Social Security treats same-sex couples. Michael Ely, a 65-year-old Tucsonan, was in a relationship with James “Spider” Taylor for 43 years. The couple married in 2014, just three weeks after Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal court. Six months after Michael and James got married, James died – leaving Michael with no spousal survivor benefits from Social Security, because their union didn’t meet the nine-month legal threshold. LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in Tucson against the Social Security Administration, saying same-sex couples shouldn’t be held to the nine-month requirement, since many same-sex couples were legally prevented from marrying. “The Social Security Administration is allowing the heartbreak of discriminatory marriage bans to persist by holding same-sex couples to a standard that many could not meet, insisting that they have been married for nine months even where it was legally impossible for them to do so,” Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn said in a press statement. The suit argues that the Social Security Administration can’t use unconstitutional state laws to dictate federal eligibility for survivor benefits, given the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled same-sex marriage exclusions unconstitutional. The Social Security Administration told PHOENIX magazine it won’t comment on any pending litigation. This is the second lawsuit that Lambda Legal has filed in the past year challenging the time requirement, following Washington state’s Thornton v. Berryhill, a case that has yet to be decided.

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