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Biden admin. drops appeals allowing same-sex partners access to survivors benefits

Biden admin. drops appeals allowing same-sex partners access to survivors benefits
The Biden administration dropped appeals on Monday permitting same-sex partners access to Social Security survivors benefits. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 2 (UPI) -- The Biden administration has dismissed its appeals in cases seeking to deny Social Security survivors benefits to two people who were unable to qualify due to marriage laws.

"This is a historic development with immense implications," Legal Counsel Peter Renn with Lambda Legal, which represented the two people, said in a statement on Monday. "Benefits are now equally available to everyone including potentially thousands of same-sex partners who could not marry their loved ones and may have thought it was futile to apply."

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Lambda Legal announced Monday that both the Department of Justice and the Social Security Administration dismissed their appeals with the Ninth Circuit Court against two rulings supporting survivors of same-sex couples receiving Social Security benefits as they did not meet the minimum marriage requirement of nine months due to discriminatory marriage laws.

The cases involved Helen Thornton, who sought the benefits after her partner of 27 years, Marge Brown, died in 2006 before same-sex couples were able to marry in their state of Washington; and Michael Ely, who married his partner of 43 years, James "Spider" Taylor, after Arizona's same-sex marriage ban was struck down in 2014 and whose partner died of cancer six months later.

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Lambda filed lawsuits on Thorton's behalf in September of 2018 and on Ely's behalf the next month. Both cases won victories in the courts but were met with challenges from the federal government until Monday.

"I am relieved that my 27-year relationship with Margie will finally be respected by the government and that we will not be treated as legal strangers even in death," Thornton said. "Marriage equality came too late for many of us, but it was not too late to fix this problem involving survivors benefits."

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