TN 10 (08-17)

PR 05845.041 Oregon

A. PR 17-108 Evaluation of California Domestic Partnership for Entitlement to Widow’s Benefits Under Title II with Oregon as Place of Death

Date: July 5, 2017

1. Syllabus

The number holder (NH) passed away while domiciled in Oregon; therefore, we look to the Oregon law to determine if the Claimant is entitled to survivor’s benefits on the NH’s record. The Claimant and the NH registered as same-sex domestic partners in California and there is no evidence that their domestic partnership was not validly formed. Both Oregon and California provide for spousal inheritance rights. Under Title II of the Act, the agency could deem the claimant and NH as married based on their California registered domestic partnership because, under Oregon law, such relationship allows for intestate inheritance rights as a spouse. Accordingly, the claimant is entitled to survivor’s benefits on the NH’s record.

2. Opinion

QUESTION PRESENTED

S~ (the claimant) and P~ (the number holder (NH)) registered as same-sex domestic partners in California, and the NH later passed away while the couple was domiciled in Oregon. Is the claimant entitled to widow’s benefits on the NH’s record under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act)?

BRIEF ANSWER

Yes, the agency would consider the claimant as the NH’s spouse based upon the California domestic partnership. Here, where the domestic partnership laws of Oregon and California are substantially similar, and both provide for spousal inheritance rights, Oregon policy would not prevent recognition of this validly formed California domestic partnership. Thus, because the claimant can inherit as the NH’s spouse under Oregon law, the agency should consider the claimant and the NH as married for benefits purposes when the NH passed away while domiciled in Oregon.

SUMMARY OF FACTS

The NH and claimant registered as same-sex domestic partners in California on July XX, 2003. There is no evidence that their domestic partnership was not validly formed. The couple moved to Oregon sometime in 2004. They never married, nor did they register their domestic partnership in Oregon. The NH died in Oregon on December XX, 2010. On September XX, 2015, the claimant applied for widow’s benefits on the NH’s record.

DISCUSSION

I. Applicable Law

Federal Law

An individual must establish a marital relationship with the NH in order to be entitled to widow’s or widower’s benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 402(e) & (f); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335. Where there is a non-marital legal relationship rather than a marriage, the agency determines whether the non-marital legal relationship qualifies as a marital relationship using the intestacy laws of the state of the NH’s domicile when he or she died. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. If, under state law, a claimant could inherit a spouse’s share of the NH’s personal property if the NH died without leaving a will, the agency treats the couple’s non-marital legal relationship as a marital relationship for purposes of determining entitlement to benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. In this case, the NH was domiciled in Oregon at the time of death; therefore, Oregon state law governs.

Oregon Law

At the time of the NH’s death, Oregon state law recognized same-sex domestic partnerships. Or. Rev. Stat. § 106.340. Domestic partnerships were allowed except when (1) either party had another partner or spouse living at the time of the domestic partnership; (2) the parties were first cousins or any nearer kin to each other; or (3) either party was incapable of consenting to the contract for want of age or understanding. Or. Rev. Stat. § 106.315. Oregon law granted couples registered as domestic partners the same survivor benefits as married couples. Or. Rev. Stat. § 106.340(1). Thus, Oregon registered domestic partnerships qualified as marital relationships for SSA benefits purposes. POMS GN 00210.004D.

There is no explicit provision in Oregon law either recognizing or rejecting out-of-state registered domestic partnerships. However, as a general principle of Oregon law, “a marriage which is recognized as valid in the state where it was performed will be recognized in Oregon.” Garrett v. Chapman, 252 Or. 361, 364, 449 P. 2d 856 (1969). There is a potential exception to that rule “where the policy of this state dictates a different result than would be reached by the state where the marriage was performed.” Id. Thus, when considering the validity of marriages formed in other states, the question is whether any Oregon policy would prevent recognition of the marriage.

California Law

Beginning January 2000 (and at all times relevant here), California permitted any two same-sex individuals to enter a registered domestic partnership if (1) neither person had an ongoing marriage or domestic partnership with someone else; (2) the individuals were not related by blood; (3) both individuals were at least 18 years of age; and (4) both individuals were capable of consenting to the domestic partnership. Cal. Fam. Code § 297(b); see POMS GN 00210.004(D)(5).

As in Oregon, registered domestic partners in California had the same rights, protections, benefits, responsibilities, obligations, and duties “as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.” Cal. Fam. Code § 297.5(a). An individual in a registered domestic partnership had a right to inherit intestate from the other partner the same as a surviving spouse. Cal. Fam. Code § 297.5(c).

II. Analysis

Because the claimant does not allege that there was a marriage, we need not address the requirements for a valid marriage in Oregon. We address instead the claimant’s registered domestic partnership.

Applying the Garrett analysis to these facts, the State of Oregon would recognize the claimant and the NH’s out-of-state domestic partnership. The domestic partnership was registered in California, which, like Oregon, prohibits domestic partnerships between partners who are married to another, related by blood, under 18 years of age, or incompetent. Cal. Fam. Code § 297(b); Or. Rev. Stat. § 106.315. California’s domestic partnership requirements and benefits, which are comprehensive, are substantially similar to Oregon’s. Compare Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 106.315 & 106.340, and Cal Fam. Code § 297.5. Therefore, Oregon policy would not prevent recognition of this validly formed California domestic partnership. Because Oregon would recognize this domestic partnership for inheritance purposes, the agency may treat the couple’s relationship as a marital relationship for purposes of determining entitlement to benefits.

CONCLUSION

Under Title II of the Act, the agency could deem the claimant and NH as married based on their California registered domestic partnership because, under Oregon law, such relationship allows for intestate inheritance rights as a spouse. Accordingly, the claimant is entitled to survivor’s benefits on the NH’s record.


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1505845041
PR 05845.041 - Oregon - 08/16/2017
Batch run: 08/16/2017
Rev:08/16/2017