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Judge rules for same-sex partners in Social Security case
2020-01-31

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On Jan. 31, federal magistrate judge recommended striking down as unconstitutional the U.S. Social Security Administration's ( SSA's ) denial of survivor's benefits to surviving same-sex partners who were barred from marrying due to discriminatory state marriage bans.

While several states began allowing same-sex couples to marry beginning in 2003, and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all remaining state bans in 2015, for many couples that freedom came too late.

The development came in Thornton v. Saul ( formerly Thornton v. Berryhill ), the lawsuit Lambda Legal filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in September 2018, against SSA on behalf of Helen Thornton, a 64-year-old lesbian seeking spousal survivor's benefits based on her relationship with her partner of 27 years, Marge Brown, who died in 2006 —before same-sex couples in Washington were able to marry.

The recommendation by the federal magistrate judge now goes before a federal district judge, who may accept, reject, or modify the recommendation.


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