Whether P~ (claimant) and P2~, the deceased insured number holder (NH), who entered
into a civil partnership on April XX, 2012 in Wicklow, Ireland, were validly married
for purposes of determining claimant’s entitlement to Lump Sum Death Payment (LSDP)
under Title II as the NH’s widower under the Social Security Act (Act)? If they were
not validly married, can the Agency deem the couple to have been married for purposes
of determining claimant’s entitlement to LSDP as the NH’s widower?
Yes, the agency can find that the claimant is the NH’s widower under the Act. Accordingly,
if the claimant meets the other criteria for entitlement to the LDSP, the agency could find that he is entitled to that payment on the NH’s record.
The claimant and the NH entered into a civil partnership on April XX, 2012, in Wicklow,
Ireland. The claimant and the NH lived in the same household as partners until the
time of NH’s death on February XX, 2013. The claimant applied for LSDP on the NH’s
record on January XX, 2014. You requested a legal opinion regarding whether the claimant
and NH’s civil partnership was a valid marriage and whether the civil partnership
entitled the claimant to benefits on the NH’s record.
Under section 202(i) of the Act, to be entitled to the LSDP on an insured NH’s record,
a claimant must show that he or she is the NH’s widow or widower and resided in the
same household with the deceased at the time of death. See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.391. A widow or widower is defined as the surviving wife or husband
and must have been married to the insured for a period of not less than nine months
immediately prior to the day the wife or husband died. See section 216(c) & (g) of the Act; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.335, 404.345, 404.346. The laws of the state where the NH had a
permanent home when he or she died determine whether a martial relationship exists.
Here, because the NH resided in Ireland at the time he died, we apply District of
Columbia law to determine whether they were validly married. Section 216(h)(1)(A)(i)
of the Act; 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.345. Under the law of the District of Columbia, the validity of a marriage is
determined by the law of the jurisdiction where the marriage was entered into. See McConnell v. McConnell, 99 F. Supp. 493, 494 (D.D.C. 1951); Carr v. Varr, 82 F. Supp. 398 (D.D.C. 1949); Gerardi v. Gerardi, 69 F. Supp. 296 (D.D.C. 1946). As pertinent here, the District of Columbia began
recognizing as valid same-sex marriages entered into in other jurisdictions beginning
on July 7, 2009. See Section 1287a of the Jury and Marriage Amendment Act of 2009, D.C. Code § 46-405.01.
The only exception is when the marriage is in violation of strong public policy of
the District of Columbia. Hitchens v. Hitchens, 47 F. Supp. 73, 74 (D.D.C. 1942). (“A marriage legally entered into in another jurisdiction
between 2 persons of the same sex that is recognized as valid in that jurisdiction,
that is not expressly prohibited . . . , and has not been deemed illegal . . . , shall
be recognized as a marriage in the District.”). Accordingly, the recognition of same-sex
marriages performed in other jurisdictions does not appear to violate a strong public
policy of the District. Therefore, we next must examine the validity of same-sex marriage
under the law of Ireland.
The Claimant is not Validly Married to the NH Pursuant to Irish Law
On November 16, 2015, the requirement that parties to a marriage be of opposite sexes
was removed from the Irish Constitution after a nationwide referendum, and thus Ireland
now recognizes same-sex marriage. This amendment does not obligate couples existing in civil partnerships to convert
their partnerships to marriages, but going forward, same-sex couples will only have
the opportunity to seek marriage applications, not civil partnerships. In the claim at issue, there are no allegations or evidence that a same-sex marriage
occurred between the claimant and the NH. Nor are there any allegations that the civil
partnership the couple entered into was converted to a marriage. Accordingly, the
couple is not validly married under the laws of Ireland.
The Claimant has the Same Status as a Husband of the NH Pursuant to Irish Intestacy
If the claimant cannot be entitled to widower’s benefits based on a marriage to the
NH, the agency may deem the claimant to have been married to the NH, if, under the
law applied by the courts of the District of Columbia in determining the devolution
of intestate personal property, the claimant would have the “same status” as a husband
of the NH with respect to the taking of such property if the NH were to die. See 42 U.S.C § 416(h)(1)(A)(ii); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. Under District of Columbia law,
intestate inheritance rights are determined by the law of the decedent’s domicile.
Javier v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 407 F.3d 1244, 1247 (D.D.C. 2005) (citing In re Gray’s Estate, 168 F. Supp. 124 (D.D.C. 1958)). Here, as noted above, the NH was domiciled in Ireland.
Accordingly, to determine whether the claimant would have the requisite status with
respect to inheritance of the NH’s intestate property, we apply Irish law.
Effective January 1, 2011, a statutory civil partnership registration system for same-sex
couples was introduced in Ireland. The Registrar General is under an obligation to maintain a register of legal partnerships. Both parties must sign the civil partnership registration form in front of each other,
the Registrar, and two witnesses. Once the Registrar countersigns the civil partnership form, the parties are considered
to be civil partners with all the duties and benefits of partnership. Under Irish law, a civil partnership is a legally binding contract with “legal consequences”
that are “generally similar to the legal consequences of getting married.” With respect to intestate succession, civil partners maintain the same rights as
In this case, the claimant has presented the agency with a copy of a Civil Partnership
Certificate, registered on April XX, 2012. The document is signed by the claimant
and the NH as well as the Registrar and two witnesses. In addition, the law of Ireland provides that if a civil partner dies intestate,
the same inheritance rights apply to the surviving civil partner as would apply in
marriage to a surviving spouse. Based on these facts, it appears that the claimant
would inherit a spouse’s share of the NH’s intestate property under the law of Ireland.
Although the claimant’s relationship with the NH would not be recognized as a marriage
under the law of Ireland, the claimant maintains the same status as a spouse of the
NH under Irish intestacy law. Thus, the agency can deem the couple married for Title