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U.S. provides marriage benefits to same-sex couples in all states

Stephen Ohlemacher Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Same-sex married couples can start applying for Social Security and veterans benefits for spouses in all 50 states, but there are still issues to resolve as the federal government works to implement the Supreme Court ruling allowing gay couples to marry nationwide.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Thursday the federal government is making marriage benefits available to same-sex couples in every state.

The vast majority of federal marriage benefits were already available to same-sex couples, following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the federal ban on gay marriage. However, some Social Security and veterans benefits for spouses were still denied to these couples if they lived in states that did not recognize their marriages.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision last month that the Constitution provides a right to same-sex marriage. Before the ruling, there were 13 states that did not recognize same-sex marriages.

But there are still unresolved questions about how the federal government will implement the ruling, said Vickie Henry, a senior staff attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a legal advocacy group.

For example, Social Security had been denying spousal benefits to same-sex married couples if – at the time they applied for benefits – they were living in a state that did not recognize their marriage. Also, they were denied survivor’s benefits if their same-sex spouse died while living in a state that did not recognize their marriage.

Will same-sex spouses who were denied benefits now be able to go back to Social Security and re-apply?

Likewise, the Department of Veterans Affairs had been denying spousal benefits if – at the time they applied for benefits – couples were living in a state that did not recognize their marriage.

Will spouses be able to reapply if the VA denied their applications for pensions, home loans, education benefits, medical services or burial benefits?

Stay tuned, says the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Both agencies said Thursday they are still working to implement the ruling.

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