If there were ever an example of why marriage equality is so important, this story is it.
Helen Thornton was with her partner, Marge Brown, for 27 years. The Washington couple also raised a son together.
But Brown passed away from cancer in 2006, before same-sex marriage became legal in the state. So Thornton, now 64, hasn’t been able to access any of the Social Security benefits that a widow would normally be entitled to at age 60.
It’s been 13 years since Brown’s death, and Thornton is still fighting an uphill battle for her benefits. The LGBT+ law firm Lambda Legal has taken the case to federal court in an attempt to override the decision to deny benefits to Thornton.
While Social Security rules dictate that a couple must be married for at least nine months to qualify for survivor’s benefits, Lambda Legal argues that this policy is discriminatory against same-sex couples who were blocked from marriage.
“Margie and I were fortunate to share 27 years of love and commitment together on this earth,” Thornton said, per PinkNews. “Like other committed couples, we built a life together, formed a family, and cared for each other in sickness and in health.”
And like other committed couples, Thornton and Brown paid into the Social Security system for their entire careers. Now, Thornton says, she’s being denied the benefits that are essential to her financial security as a widow. She’s essentially being punished for the state’s failure to allow her to marry her partner.
Lawyer Peter Renn of Lambda Legal explains: “By requiring same-sex couples to have been married at a time when that was impossible for them under state law in order to access survivor’s benefits, the Social Security Administration is now doubling down on unlawful discrimination that continues to harm surviving same-sex seniors every single month they are deprived of the benefits for which they paid.”
It’s past time to fix this archaic policy. Lambda Legal expects the case to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.