TN 3 (04-16)

PR 05840.007 Colorado

A. PR 16-052 Relationship of Same Sex Spouse to the Number Holder (NH) Based on a Civil Union in Vermont, Civil Union in Colorado, and Same Sex Marriage in Vermont – NH T~ (PL15-35)

Date: January 4, 2016

1. Syllabus

The number holder (NH) and claimant are domiciled in Colorado. The NH and claimant entered into a civil union in Vermont in September 2001. They then entered into a civil union ceremony in Colorado in May 2013, and then had a same-sex marriage in Vermont in October 2014. The claimant applied for spousal benefits in January 2015. The Regional Chief Counsel was asked to evaluate whether the dates of the civil unions in Vermont and Colorado with the same-sex marriage in Vermont established a longer duration of marriage to entitle the claimant to spousal benefits on the NH’s record. However, it is unnecessary to consider whether the dates of a civil union and marriage can be combined because the NH and claimant’s 2001 Vermont civil union was recognized by Colorado on May 1, 2013 and qualified as a marriage as of that date because the claimant could inherit a spouse’s share of the NH’s estate pursuant to their civil union. Therefore, as of May 1, 2013, the claimant had a non-marital legal relationship with the NH that can be treated as a marital relationship for the purposes of determining entitlement to benefits because the couple’s relationship lasted for at least one year and under Colorado law, the claimant is able to inherit a husband’s share of the NH’s personal property if the NH were to die without leaving a will.

2. Opinion

Question Presented

You asked us to determine if we can combine the dates of civil unions in Vermont and Colorado with the same-sex marriage in Vermont to establish a longer duration of marriage to entitle the claimant to spousal benefits on the number holder’s record.

Short Answer

It is unnecessary to consider whether the dates of a civil union and marriage can be combined because the claimant (CL)’s 2001 civil union was recognized by Colorado on May 1, 2013, and qualified as a marriage as of that date because CL could inherit a spouse’s share of NH’s estate pursuant to their civil union.

Background

The number holder (NH), T~, and claimant (CL), K~, are domiciled in Colorado. NH and CL entered into a civil union in Vermont on September XX, 2001. They then entered into a civil union ceremony in Colorado on May XX, 2013. The NH and CL had a same-sex marriage in Vermont on October XX, 2014. NH and CL have resided in Colorado from June XX, 1971 to present. CL applied for spousal benefits on January XX, 2015.

Discussion

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013). Because of the decision, the Agency recognizes same-sex marriages for purposes of determining benefits. See Program Operating Manual System (POMS), GN 00210.001. Consequently, all claims that were filed on or after June 26, 2013, or that were pending final determination at the time of the decision, are subject to Windsor’s instructions.

You asked us to determine if we can combine the dates of civil unions in Vermont and Colorado with the same-sex marriage in Vermont to establish a longer duration of marriage presumably because the marriage has not yet lasted at least one year. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.330(a)(1). We need not answer this question, however, because the Commissioner recognizes CL and NH’s civil union as a marital relationship for the purposes of determining entitlement to benefits under POMS GN 00210.004, and the civil union by itself meets the duration requirement.1

POMS GN 00210.004 provides that a non-marital legal relationship—such as a civil union—can be treated as a marital relationship for the purposes of determining entitlement to benefits if such relationship is (1) valid in the state in which it was “established” and (2) qualifies as a marital relationship under the laws of the state in which NH is domiciled.

Effective July 1, 2000, Vermont established “civil unions,” providing same-sex couples with the benefits and protections of spouses. Vt. Stat. Ann. Tit. 15, §§ 1201-02; 1999 Adj. Sess. No. 91, Sec. 1-3, 42(e) (session law providing effective date). CL and NH provided a presumptively valid copy of their Vermont License and Certificate of a Civil Union, dated September XX, 2001. See Vt. Stat. Ann. Tit. 18, § 5167. Thus, under POMS GN 00210.004.B.1, CL and NH had a non-marital relationship that was valid in Vermont as of September XX,