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Benefits Bill Aims To Go Beyond Marriage, Protect Gay Couples In Civil Unions

The Social Security Equality Act was introduced Friday by Rep. Linda Sánchez.

Posted on August 2, 2013, at 9:28 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — As the federal government adjusts the bureaucracy to life after the Defense of Marriage Act's federal ban on recognizing same-sex couples' marriages, new legislation raises the question of how those still without marriage rights are going to be treated by the federal government.

California Rep. Linda Sánchez wants federal protection for same-sex couples to go beyond current recognition for same-sex married couples, introducing legislation Friday that would provide equal Social Security benefits not just for same-sex couples who are married but also for those in civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships.

"Same-sex couples pay into Social Security over the course of their working lives just like other Americans. They should receive the full benefits they have earned," Sánchez said in a statement. "My bill will make sure every American receives a benefit based upon their contribution to Social Security, not their sexual orientation."

The Social Security Equality Act of 2013, introduced with 109 co-sponsors, would require the Social Security Administration to provide spousal, survivor and death benefits to same-sex couples in relationships that have been recognized by the state where they live, according to Sánchez's office.

The change would allow Social Security benefits for same-sex couples whose relationships are recognized by the states of Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and Oregon. California, [Colorado,] Delaware and Rhode Island, to the extent people there have civil unions or comprehensive domestic partner benefits still, would appear to be covered as well. The bill would not, however, affect those in states where same-sex couples' relationships have no formal recognition.

Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois explained his reason for supporting the bill, saying, "This is a fundamental question of fairness, and I believe there is absolutely no reason why hardworking people who have paid into Social Security over a lifetime should be denied the benefits they've earned, regardless of who they love."

Sánchez's office has worked with the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center in her preparation of the bill, and the group's chief executive officer, Lorri Jean explained why her group believes the legislation is needed.

"Despite the recent Supreme Court decisions that struck down DOMA and reaffirmed marriage equality in California, millions of LGBT Americans still live in states where they do not have equal access to federal benefits. The Social Security Equality Act will help many older LGBT Americans live their lives with the dignity and respect that all older citizens of our country deserve," Jean said in a statement.

[This post was updated to include Colorado in the civil union or domestic partnership states.]

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