TN 18 (06-16)
PR 05825.036 North Carolina
A. PR 16-064 Validity of Canadian Same-sex Marriage for Entitlement to Widower's Insurance Benefits and the Lump-Sum Death Payment – North Carolina
Date: January 14, 2016
The claimant and number holder (NH) married in Ontario, Canada in August 2007. Same-sex marriages have been valid in Ontario as of June 10, 2003. The NH died in December 2014 while domiciled in North Carolina. The claimant filed for survivor’s benefits on the NH’s earnings record. Regarding marriages in foreign countries, North Carolina courts generally look to the law of the country where the marriage occurred to determine the validity of the marriage. In this case, the claimant provided a marriage certificate issued in Ontario, Canada, and on its face and the other information indicates the marriage certificate was issued in accordance with Canadian law. Since the marriage between the claimant and NH was valid and North Carolina recognizes valid marriages from foreign jurisdictions and recognizes same-sex marriages, we determine the claimant was validly married to the NH for purposes of determining entitlement to Title II benefits on the NH’s record.
You asked whether Claimant and the number holder (NH), who entered into a same-sex marriage in Canada, were validly married under North Carolina law for purposes of determining Claimant's entitlement to Title II benefits as NH's widower.
Claimant was validly married to NH under North Carolina law for purposes of determining Claimant's entitlement to Title II benefits as NH's widower.
According to the information provided, D1~ (Claimant) married D2~ (NH) on August XX, 2007, in Ontario, Canada. NH's death certificate indicates he was a resident of North Carolina when he died on December XX, 2014. NH's death certificate annotates his marital status as married and identifies Claimant as the informant. Claimant's Numident indicates he is male, and NH's death certificate and Numident indicates he was male. On January XX, 2015, Claimant applied for widower's insurance benefits (WIB) and the lump-sum death payment on NH's earnings record. Claimant reported in his application that he and NH married in Canada on August XX, 2007.
A claimant may be eligible for WIB if the claimant is the widower of an individual who died fully insured. See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(f)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335(a) (2015).* A claimant may be eligible for the lump-sum death payment if the claimant is the widower of an individual who died fully or currently insured. See Act § 202(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.390, 404.391. A claimant may qualify as the widower of an insured individual if the courts of the State in which the insured individual was domiciled at the time of death would find the claimant and insured individual were validly married when the insured individual died. See Act § 216(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.335(a), 404.345; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00305.001(A)(2)(a); see also POMS GN 00210.006(B)(2)(a) (stating Regional Chief Counsel opinions regarding validity of foreign same-sex marriages look to laws of the State of the number holder's domicile and must address whether marriage would be recognized as valid by the courts of the State of the number holder's domicile). NH's death certificate indicates he was a resident of North Carolina when he died. Therefore, we look to North Carolina law to determine if Claimant and NH were validly married.
Under North Carolina law, when the evidence establishes that a marriage ceremony occurred, courts presume the ceremony was performed legally and resulted in a valid marriage. See Kearney v. Thomas, 33 S.E.2d 871, 876-77 (N.C. 1945); see also Overton v. Overton, 132 S.E.2d 349, 352 (N.C. 1963) ("If a ceremonial marriage is in fact established by evidence or admission it is presumed to be regular and valid"). The presentation of a marriage license generally is sufficient to invoke the presumption that the marriage is valid. See Hanner v. Hanner, 554 S.E.2d 673, 675 (N.C. Ct. App. 2001). North Carolina courts also presume "that a marriage entered into in another State is valid under the laws of that State in the absence of contrary evidence." Parker v. Parker, 265 S.E. 2d 237, 239 (N.C. 1980) (quoting Overton, 132 S.E.2d at 352) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Fungaroli v. Fungaroli, 280 S.E.2d 787, 793 (N.C. Ct. App. 1981) ("The general conflicts rule is . . . that a marriage valid where contracted is valid everywhere"); POMS GN 00305.005(B)(1) ("The law of the place where a marriage occurred ordinarily determines the validity of a marriage. If the marriage is valid in that jurisdiction, it is usually held valid in other places.").
Regarding marriages in foreign countries, North Carolina courts generally look to the law of the country where the marriage occurred to determine the validity of the marriage. See State v. Cutshall, 15 S.E. 261, 261 (N.C. 1892) ("As a rule, the validity of marriages contracted in any foreign country must be determined by the courts of another nation with reference to the law of the country wherein they exchange the mutual consent") (internal quotation marks omitted). Evidence of a marriage ceremony in a foreign country creates a presumption that the ceremony was performed in accordance with the law of the foreign country. See Loyd v. Loyd, 18 S.E. 200, 201 (N.C. 1893). Notably, at least one North Carolina court has held that evidence of a Canadian marriage is sufficient to invoke the presumption that the marriage was legal. See Mayo v. Mayo, 326 S.E.2d 283, 286 (N.C. Ct. App. 1985).
North Carolina previously denied recognition to same-sex marriages due to statutory and State Constitutional provisions, but began recognizing same-sex marriages on October 10, 2014, before NH died. See POMS GN 00210.003(A)(1). 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 held State laws invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples. Id., 135 S. Ct. at 2605. The Court also reasoned that having required all States to marry same-sex couples, "[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.
In this case, Claimant provided a Certificate of Marriage issued in Ontario, Canada on August 3, 2007. Ontario, Canada recognized same-sex marriage as of June 10, 2003, and Canada recognized the validity of same-sex marriage nationwide as of July 20, 2005. See The Law Library of Congress, Report for U.S. Social Security Administration LL File No. 2014-010685, Canada: Legal Recognition of Marriage (2014). The marriage certificate on its face and the other information indicates the marriage certificate was issued in accordance with Canadian law. Although Obergefell did not specifically address whether States must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries, North Carolina law indicates North Carolina courts would recognize valid foreign marriages, particularly a valid Canadian marriage. See Mayo, 326 S.E.2d at 286; Parker, 265 S.E. 2d at 239; Loyd, 18 S.E. at 201. Thus, because the marriage between Claimant and NH was valid and North Carolina recognizes valid marriages from foreign jurisdictions and recognizes same-sex marriages, a North Carolina court would have recognized Claimant and NH as validly married under North Carolina when NH died.
Claimant was validly married to NH under North Carolina law for purposes of determining Claimant's entitlement to Title II benefits on NH's earnings record.
Mary Ann Sloan
Regional Chief Counsel
By: Brian C. Huberty
Assistant Regional Counsel
All references to the Code of Federal Regulations are to the 2015 edition.