TN 1 (02-16)

PR 05865.053 Washington

A. PR 16-028 Eligibility for Widow’s Benefits Based Upon Washington Registered Domestic Partnership and Subsequent Marriage

Date: November 17, 2015

1. Syllabus

The claimant and number holder (NH), a same-sex couple, entered a registered domestic partnership in the State of Washington in July 2012 and subsequently married in February 2013. The NH died in September 2013 while domiciled in the State of Washington. We look to the law of Washington State to determine whether the claimant can be considered the NH’s spouse for purposes of determining entitlement to widow’s insurance benefits (WIB). In addition, we must determine whether the marriage in this case satisfied the nine-month duration of marriage requirement.

The State of Washington authorized domestic partnerships beginning July 22, 2007 and the law made domestic partners eligible to inherit property from a partner dying intestate. Later, Washington State legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex marriages in 2012. Under the new law, same-sex partners in a state registered domestic partnership (such as the claimant and NH in this case), could be licensed and enter a marriage. The statute further specified that for purposes of determining legal rights and responsibilities involving individuals who had previously had a state registered domestic partnership and have been issued a marriage license or are deemed married under the provisions, “the date of the original state registered domestic partnership is the legal date of the marriage.” Even though the claimant and NH’s marriage license is dated February 2013, under Washington State law, the legal date of their marriage is the date of the original state registered domestic partnership in July 2012. Therefore, the claimant and NH were married for purposes of determining the claimant’s entitlement to WIB and their marriage satisfies the nine-month duration requirement.

2. Opinion

QUESTION PRESENTED

Whether M~ and M2~, a same-sex couple, were married for purposes of determining entitlement to widow’s benefits under the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and, if so, whether the marriage satisfies the nine-month duration of marriage requirement set out in the Act.

BRIEF ANSWER

Yes. M~ and M2~ were married for purposes of determining entitlement to widow’s benefits under the Act and their marriage satisfies the nine-month duration of marriage requirement set out in the Act.

SUMMARY OF FACTS

M~ and M2~ entered a registered domestic partnership in the State of Washington on July XX, 2012. Subsequently, M~ and M2~ married on February XX, 2013, as evidenced by a Washington Certificate of Marriage, State File Number 2012120XXXXXXX. M2~ died on September XX, 2013. M2~ was domiciled in the State of Washington at the time of her death. M~ has applied for widow’s benefits on M2~’s record.

ANALYSIS

A. Federal Law and Programmatic Guidance

The Agency will determine whether a claimant is the insured’s widow or widower by looking to the laws of the state where the insured was domiciled when he or she died. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(i); 20 C.F.R. § 404.345. In this case, at the time of death, M2~, the insured, was domiciled in Washington State. Therefore, we look to the law of Washington State to determine whether M~ can be considered M2~’s spouse for purposes of determining entitlement to widow’s benefits under the Act.

In addition, in order to be entitled to widow’s benefits, a person must, among other things, be either a legal, putative, or deemed spouse for not less than 9 months, unless an exception applies. 42 U.S.C. § 416(c); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335; POMS RS 00207.001A.1.a.1-2. As a result, we must determine whether the marriage in this case satisfied the duration of marriage requirement.

B. Washington State Law

The State of Washington authorized domestic partnerships beginning July 22, 2007. 2007 Wash. Legis. Serv. Ch. 156 (S.B. 5336). The law made domestic partners eligible for a number of the benefits of marriage, including the right to inherit property from a partner dying intestate. Id. at Sec. 27. It amended the existing law to provide, in pertinent part, that a share of the net estate of a person dying intestate would be distributed to the “surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner.Id. (emphasis in original). Accordingly, Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00210.004.D reflects that Washington established the non-marital legal relationship of registered domestic partnership, with qualifying inheritance rights, effective July 22, 2007.

In 2012, the Washington State legislature passed a law legalizing sam