You asked whether the number holder (NH) and Claimant, who entered into a same-sex
civil partnership in England, were validly married under Florida law for purposes
of determining Claimant’s entitlement to Title II benefits as NH’s spouse.
Claimant is validly married to NH under Florida law for determining Claimant’s entitlement
to Title II benefits as NH’s spouse.
According to the information provided, B~ (Claimant) and A~ (NH) entered into a civil
partnership on June XX, 2008, in L~, England. Both Claimant and NH are male. NH currently
receives old-age insurance benefits. On June XX, 2015, Claimant applied for Husband’s
Insurance Benefits (HIB) on NH’s earnings record. Claimant and NH lived in Florida
when Claimant filed his HIB application.
A claimant may be eligible for HIB if he is the husband of an individual entitled
to old-age insurance benefits. See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(c)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.330(a) (2015). A claimant may qualify as the husband of a living insured individual if the claimant
is validly married to the insured individual under the laws of the State where the
insured individual is domiciled at the time of the claimant’s application. See Act § 216(f), (h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.344, 404.345. NH lived in Florida when
Claimant applied for HIB on NH’s earnings record. Claimant and NH entered into a civil
partnership, not a marriage, under English law. Therefore, we look to Florida intestacy
law to determine whether the English civil partnership between Claimant and NH would
permit Claimant to inherit a spouse’s share of NH’s intestate property.
Under Florida intestacy law, a surviving spouse is entitled to a share of the decedent’s
estate. See Fla. Stat. Ann. § 732.102 (West 2015). Florida courts typically base the determination
of whether an individual is a surviving spouse on the validity of the marriage. See, e.g., In re Estate of Perez, 470 So. 2d 48, 50 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1985) (reviewing validity of marriage to determine
lawful spouse in intestate matter); In re Kant’s Estate, 265 So. 2d 524, 526 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1972) (same). We found no Florida case
law specifically addressing whether a member of an English civil partnership can inherit
as a spouse under Florida intestacy law.
Florida previously denied recognition to same-sex marriages due to statutory and State
Constitutional provisions, but began recognizing same-sex marriages on January 5,
2015. See Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00210.003(A); POMS PR 05825.011. Additionally, on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that same-sex couples
may exercise the fundamental right to marry under the United States Constitution.
See Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. --, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2604-05 (2015). The Court State invalid to the extent
that they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions
as opposite-sex couples. Id. at 2605. The Court also reasoned that having required all States to allow same-sex
couples to marry, “[i]t follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that
there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage
performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.” Id. at 2607-08.
However, questions remain whether Florida would recognize an English civil partnership
as a marriage. See POMS GN 00210.004(A). In Florida, the general rule is that the law of the jurisdiction in which a marriage
was entered determines the validity of a marriage. Anderson v. Anderson, 577 So. 2d 658, 660 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1991). For example, although Florida does
not provide for common law marriages, it recognizes out-of-State common law marriages
if such marriages are sanctioned in the State in which they were formed. See, e.g., Smith v. Anderson, 821 So. 2d 323, 325 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2002) (citing Anderson, 577 So. 2d at 660).
Florida courts also have examined relationships from other jurisdictions that are
not marriages to determine whether Florida, nevertheless, would recognize the relationship
as a marriage. A Florida appellate court has held Florida would recognize such a relationship
as a marriage if the relationship is a legal union between one man and one woman as
husband and wife. See American Airlines, Inc. v. Mejia, 766 So. 2d 305, 307 (Fla. Ct. App. 2000). In American Airlines, the court evaluated whether a Colombian Unión Marital de Hecho (“Unión”) was a marriage for Florida purposes in a wrongful death suit. Id. at 308-09. The court’s analysis compared the rights and responsibilities in the institution
of marriage with those of the Unión under Colombian law. Id. The court found that the Unión was not a marriage due to legal differences between
the two types of relationship, such as the fact that a Unión terminates upon the marriage
of one party to another person and the parties to the Unión have no rights of inheritance.
In this case, Claimant and NH provided a certificate of civil partnership issued in
England in June 2008. England began recognizing same-sex civil partnerships as of December 5, 2005, under
the Civil Partnership Act 2004. See Letter from Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Senior Foreign Law Specialist, Law Library of Cong.
Global Legal Research Ctr., to Karen Aviles, Office of the Gen. Counsel, Soc. Sec.
Admin, 1, (Aug. 2014) (attached). Entering into a civil partnership creates the same
legal relationship between partners as a marriage between a husband and wife, but
with the different terminology of “civil partners.” See id. Moreover, under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, if a civil partner dies intestate,
the same rules apply to the surviving civil partner as would apply in marriage to
a surviving spouse. See id. at 3.
Because English law mandates the same treatment for same-sex civil partners and members
of civil marriages, the analysis of American Airlines applied to an English civil partnership suggests Florida could recognize the English
civil partnership as a marriage. In American Airlines, the court made it clear that whether a Florida court will treat a relationship as
a marriage depends on the law in the jurisdiction in which the relationship was entered.
Under the analysis of American Airlines, that evaluation should focus on whether the non-marriage relationship results in
treating the parties the same as if they were married. Here, based on guidance from
the Law Library of Congress Global Legal Research Center, we conclude England’s laws
require that parties to civil partnerships be treated the same as those to a marriage.
This suggests that Florida courts could find an English civil partnership results
in the partners being treated as having entered a legal union between spouses. Therefore,
we conclude that Florida courts could find that parties to an English civil partnership
are married. Although Obergefell did not specifically address whether States must recognize same-sex marriages performed
in other countries, Florida has a history of recognizing valid foreign marriages.
See, e.g., Guelman, 453 So. 2d at 1160 (recognizing Bolivian marriage). Thus, because:
(1) all legal rights for civil partners are the same as those for married spouses
so Florida courts could find the relationship created in an English civil partnership
is a marriage,
(2) Florida now recognizes same-sex marriages from other States, and
(3) Florida should recognize such marriages from foreign countries, we conclude Florida
courts could find Claimant and NH are validly married.
Despite the above analysis, we caution that neither the Supreme Court of Florida nor
any of the Florida District Courts of Appeal have spoken on these issues and this
area of law in Florida is in significant flux. Consequently, our conclusions may change
as Florida law evolves on these issues
We recognize that in the case of a non-marital legal relationship, a claimant may
meet the spousal relationship requirement if the claimant can inherit a spouse’s share
of the insured’s personal property under the intestate succession laws of the State
where the insured individual is living at the time of the claimant’s application.
See Act. § 216(h)(1)(A)(ii); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.330(a), 404.345; POMS GN 00210.004(A), (B)(2). This deemed marriage analysis does not further the decision in this case.
In Florida, the right to inherit as a spouse through intestate succession depends
on the individual’s relationship to the decedent and the law of the country where
the relationship was formed controls the status of the marriage. See In re Estate of Salathe, 703 So. 2d 1167, 1169 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1997). However, the intestate inheritance
of property is still controlled by the law where the property is located. See id. Therefore, while English law may determine whether NH and Claimant are married, Florida
law would still determine whether and how Claimant could inherit from NH in intestacy.
As such, the evaluation still relies on whether Florida would consider Claimant and
NH’s civil partnership a marriage and the deeming analysis provides no other avenue
to decide this matter.
Claimant is validly married to NH under Florida law for purposes of determining Claimant’s
entitlement to HIB on NH’s earnings record.
Mary Ann Sloan
Regional Chief Counsel
By: Christopher Yarbrough
Assistant Regional Counsel