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Grieving gay widower is suing a US federal agency for spousal benefits

Grieving gay widower is suing a US federal agency for spousal benefits

Michael Ely and James 'Spider' Taylor before Ely became a widower

A grieving gay widower in Arizona is suing the United States’ Social Security Administration (SSA) for denying him spousal benefits.

Lamba Legal filed a lawsuit on Tuesday (20 November) on behalf of Michael Ely.

Ely met James ‘Spider’ Taylor in 1971, and they were together for 43 years. Ely described Taylor as the ‘love of his life’.

‘Like other committed couples, we built a life together and cared for each other in sickness and in health,’ Ely said.

‘When Arizona’s ban on marriage by same-sex couples was struck down in 2014, we got married as soon as we could, quickly gathering our loved ones together in less than three weeks.’

Unfortunately, Ely lost Taylor six months later to cancer.

The SSA, however, requires at least a nine-month marriage before a widow is legally able to receive spousal benefits.

Lambda Legal is suing the federal agency on the grounds that this rule is unconstitutional. Some same-sex couples, like Ely and Taylor, could not meet the nine month threshold due to the illegality of same-sex marriage.

‘Even though we’d been together for 43 years, I’m barred from receiving the same benefits as other widowers, even though my husband had worked hard for 40-plus years and paid into the social security system with every paycheck,’ Ely further explained.

The couple moved to Arizona in 1994. In 2007, they had a commitment ceremony before the state legalized same-sex marriage.

Discrimination even in death

‘The federal government is requiring surviving same-sex spouses like Michael to pass an impossible test to access benefits earned through a lifetime of work,’ said counsel Peter Renn.

He said this policy by the SSA is ‘allowing the heartbreak of discriminatory marriage bans to persist’.

‘It’s like pouring salt in a wound,’ he added. ‘Denied equality in life, they are denied equality once again in death.’

This is the second such lawsuit Lambda Legal has filed against the SSA. They filed their first one, Thornton v. Berryhill, in September.

H/t: Lambda Legal

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