You asked whether Claimant and Number Holder (NH), who were married in G~, Spain on
August XX, 2008, and are now domiciled in California, are validly married for the
purpose of determining Claimant’s entitlement to spouse’s benefits.
Yes. Because California would recognize Claimant’s marriage to NH as valid, the agency
may rely on the marriage for determining entitlement to benefits under the Social
Security Act (Act).
Y~ (Claimant) and W~ (NH), both male, entered into a ceremonial civil marriage in
G~, Spain on August XX, 2008. As proof of marriage, Claimant provided a copy of the
marriage certificate from the Civil Registry of G~, dated September XX, 2008. The
marriage certificate lists the home of Claimant and NH as G~, Spain.
On October XX, 2013, Claimant applied for auxiliary spouse’s benefits on NH’s account.
The S~ F~ – Mission field office indicated that Claimant is now a permanent resident
alien residing in S~ F~, California with the NH.
A claimant may be entitled to benefits as the spouse of an insured person, if certain
criteria are met. See Act §§ 202(b), (c); 20 C.F.R. § 404.330.
To determine eligibility, the Social Security Act looks to state law to determine
whether a spousal relationship existed. Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.345; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) RS 00202.001 (“A legal spouse must be validly married to the NH under the laws of the State of
the NH’s domicile at the time the claimant files an application or during the life
of the application; or [h]ave the same rights as a husband or wife to share in the
distribution of the NH’s intestate personal property under the laws of the State of
the NH’s domicile at the time of filing.”).
More specifically, to confirm the validity of a same-sex marriage, the agency must
first determine whether the couple entered into a ceremonial marriage after the date
the issuing state permitted same-sex marriage.
POMS GN 00210.002; see also POMS GN 00210.003 (listing all states that permit same-sex marriage). Where the couple entered into
a same-sex marriage in a foreign jurisdiction, the agency looks to the law of the
state of the NH’s domicile at the time of application to determine if the courts in
that state would recognize the foreign same-sex marriage as valid. POMS GN 00210.006.
Thus our inquiry is whether the Spanish marriage between Claimant and NH is valid
under California law.
California statutory law does not specifically address the validity of a same-sex
marriage contracted in Spain. However, the California Family Code provides that “[a]
marriage contracted outside this state that would be valid by the laws of the jurisdiction
in which the marriage was contracted is valid in this state.” Cal. Fam. Code § 308
(2014); see also 52 Am. Jur. 2d. Marriage § 65 (2012) (“[t]he general rule is that the validity of a marriage is determined
by the law of the place where it is contracted, or celebrated. Thus, a marriage which
is valid under the law of the state or country in which it is contracted will generally
be recognized as valid.”); Rosales v. Battle, 113 Cal. App. 4th 1178, 1183, 7 Cal. Rptr. 3d 13 (Cal. App. Ct. 2003) (applying
the marriage laws of Mexico to determine the validity of a foreign marriage pursuant
to California Family Code § 308(a)).
Same-sex marriage became legal in California on June 28, 2013. Perry v. Brown, 725 F.3d 968, 970 (9th Cir. June 28, 2013). In November 2008, California voters
passed Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to provide that “[o]nly
marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”    Código Civil art. 44 (B.O.E. July 25, 1889, as amended). Same-sex marriage has the
same legal requirements and effect as heterosexual marriage. Id. Applicants for a marriage license must provide proof that they have lived in Spain
for at least two years (Reglamento de la Ley de Registro Civil (RLRC) art. 240.5),
a current valid passport if the applicant is not a Spanish national (RLRC art. 258),
original birth certificate (RLRC art. 241), proof of legal capacity to enter into
marriage (RLRC art. 240.3), and any applicable marriage, divorce, annulment, or death
certificates (Ley de 8 de junio de 1957 sobre Registro Civil art. 76 (B.O.E. June
10, 1957, 7537)).
The marriage has full legal effect when it is recorded in the civil registry; at that
time, the officer of the civil registry issues a marriage certificate stating the
date, time, and place of the marriage. Código Civil arts. 49, 51.
Because California law recognizes all marriages that are valid in the jurisdiction
in which they are contracted, California will recognize the marriage of Claimant and
NH if it is valid under Spanish law. The marriage certificate presented by Claimant
shows that his marriage to NH took place on August XX, 2008 and the marriage was recorded
in the civil registry on September XX, 2008. There is no evidence suggesting that
Claimant’s marriage to NH failed to meet the requirements for a valid marriage under
Spanish law. Same-sex marriage was legal in Spain at the time of their marriage, and
the officer of the civil registry recorded the marriage in the civil register and
issued a marriage certificate to Claimant and NH. Therefore, the marriage is valid
and has full legal effect under Spanish law.
California will recognize a same-sex marriage that occurred in Spain if the marriage
was valid under Spanish law. Because the marriage between Claimant and NH was valid
under Spanish law, California would also recognize it as valid. As such, the marriage
is valid under the Act and for determining Claimant’s entitlement to spousal benefits.