Federal marriage benefits will become available to same-sex couples in all 50 states, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Thursday, a change that follows the Supreme Court’s historic ruling that all same-sex couples in the country have the right to get married.
Lynch said that officials with the Justice Department and two government agencies that had been limited in how they handled benefits and same-sex couples — the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs — worked quickly to expand these marriage benefits to people who had previously not had access to them.
“I am proud to announce that the critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not give effect to the marriages of couples living in states that did not recognize those marriages, will now provide federal recognition for all marriages nationwide,” Lynch said in a statement.
She added that these government agencies are “currently working” to provide guidance regarding how the changes will be implemented.
Lynch’s announcement came a little more than a year after her predecessor, Eric H. Holder Jr., reacted to a previous Supreme Court ruling on marriage by saying that benefits would be provided based on where the marriages took place. In other words, if a couple was married in a state that allowed same-sex marriage but later moved to a state where it was not, they could still obtain those federal benefits.
For same-sex couples, that meant being recognized when it came to filing federal taxes, receiving health insurance and retirement benefits when married to a federal employee and getting spousal benefits when married to a member of the armed forces.
People who were citizens or lawful permanent residents could begin seeking family-based immigrant visas for spouses of the same gender, while the State Department said embassies and consulates would treat visa applications the same regardless of the couples, Holder wrote in a memo to President Obama regarding the changes.
However, Holder said in a statement at the time that federal agencies were expanding benefits for same-sex couples “to the greatest extent possible under the law.” As he noted, the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs were required to give benefits based on where couples lived, not where they were married.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act that withheld the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages. Last month’s decision focused on whether gay couples in all states had a right to get married, something the justices upheld with a 5 to 4 ruling.
“With the Supreme Court’s new ruling that the Constitution requires marriage equality, we have now taken the further step of ensuring that all federal benefits will be available equally to married couples in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Territories,” Lynch said.