New Mexico Man Challenges Survivor Spousal Regulations

Via Wikimedia

A case in New Mexico challenges the Social Security Administration’s policy regarding spousal survivor benefits.

In Gonzales v. Berryhill, a gay widower is seeking spousal survivor benefits. The Social Security Administration, which under the Trump Administration is without an acting commissioner, has denied those benefits because the men were not married long enough.

“We were together for 15 years and got married as soon as humanly possible but I’m still barred from receiving the same benefits as other workers even though my husband worked hard and paid into the social security system with every paycheck,” said Anthony Gonzalez, an Albuquerque, New Mexico social worker. “The government tells me we weren’t married long enough, but we literally married the first day we could. How is that fair?”

SSA contends couples must be married for nine months or longer to qualify for spousal survivor benefits.

Lambda Legal, a national LGBT civil rights organization, filed a lawsuit in December on behalf of Gonzalez, 63.

“Over the past three months we have filed lawsuits against the Social Security Administration in three different states -- Washington, Arizona and New Mexico – all underscoring the ongoing harm that a number of same-sex couples continue to experience from marriage bans, despite those laws having been struck down,” said Lambda Legal counsel Peter Renn, in a news release Dec. 13.

Gonzalez married his spouse, Mark Johnson, an elementary school teacher, in 2013 immediately after New Mexico’s highest court struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Johnson died in 2014. Lambda Legal maintains Gonzalez and Johnson were in long committed relationship and SSA’s nine month marriage rule for spousal survivor benefits is unconstitutional.

The Social Security Administration was created in 1935 as part of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”

For more information about the case, click here.


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