Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of DOMA is the effect on children. One might even be able to look past some same-sex surviving spouses, particularly when they have accumulated wealth or income sufficient for their daily needs. But legalizing discrimination against those who have no say in nor probably any knowledge of that discrimination is particularly horrifying.
Children of LGBT parents easily become the disenfranchised victim in discrimination mandated by DOMA.
Congress has adjusted Social Security over its 75 year history to cover spouses, children, and other family members and now covers millions of American workers originally excluded from its benefits; that very flexibility lending to its success. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation jointly authored a report, calling on Congress to add protections for the spouses, children, and family members of the LGBT community.
Social Security recognizes that the death of a spouse is a financial as well as emotional loss for a family. Social Security benefits are designed to supplement families’ incomes and to provide surviving spouses with some level of financial stability. A surviving spouse is eligible to receive benefits on the deceased spouse’s Social Security record when they reach retirement age, are disabled or are raising the deceased spouses’ child.
A child becomes eligible for Social Security benefits when a parent becomes disabled or passes away. Disabled children are also eligible for benefits if the disability begins prior to their 22nd birthday. Even step children and step grandchildren are eligible despite the absence of a legal, formal relationship with the working parent. Yet children of LGBT same-sex parents are denied these benefits unless the deceased parent is the legal parent.
Despite a lifetime of contributions to Social Security same-sex couples and many of their children are denied the benefits. The denial of benefits to same-sex partners and their children places them at a real risk of poverty. Many same-sex couples use adoption to form their families raising about 250,000 children. Access to adoption for same-sex parents is far from universal and second parent adoption is available in less than a majority of the states.
The children of many same-sex parents are not eligible for Social Security; children of a parent who is not legally recognized are denied benefits. Many children of same-sex parents only have one legal parent because of adoption discrimination. If these children lose a parent who is not tied to them biologically or through adoption, Social Security determines that they are not eligible to receive any benefit, explicitly stating that the child must be a natural or adopted child in order to qualify.
A same-sex spouse is not recognized for the purposes of this benefit, because of DOMA. Because this benefit continues through adulthood, the loss to the child of a legally-unrecognized same-sex parent can be felt over decades. Congress should include language within the Social Security Act’s definition of ‘child’ that reflects the permanent relationship between a legally unrecognized same-sex parent and his or her child.
Benefits ensure that they can remain in a family home. Surviving same-sex spouses and their children are often faced with the financial free-fall that these safety-net benefits were designed to prevent.
When compared to step children, or even step grandchildren, children of same-sex LGBT suffer discrimination while being in a similar legal relationship to the parent. A step child is usually not adopted by the step parent yet is eligible of Social Security benefits in the event of the death of that step parent. When a worker responsible for a grandchild passes away the grandchild becomes eligible for Social Security benefits. When a same-sex parent of a child dies or becomes disabled that child is not eligible for Social Security benefits unless the deceased or disabled parent is the legal parent.
The legalized discrimination authorized via DOMA and propagated through Social Security places undue hardship on children of LGBT parents not presented to children of heterosexual, step or grandparents.
A society that values one person, or child, over another person, or child, is not a society based on the premise of ‘all men are created equal’. Removing legalized discrimination and extending all rights and benefits to all persons moves us closer to our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Ric Reily