Democratic Senators Voice Support for Same-Sex Couples’ Pension Rights

They say the same policies that robbed people of the right to marry for so long continue to harm LGBTQ couples as they seek to access and protect their hard-earned pension benefits.

This week, U.S. Senators Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, led 43 of their Senate Democratic colleagues in publishing an open letter addressed to Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Charles Rettig.

In the letter, the lawmakers call on the Biden administration to revise current regulatory guidance that has led to members of the LGBTQ community being denied pension survivor benefits after losing their life partner.

The letter calls for action to address the fact that some retirement plans are refusing to deem same-sex marriages as having met the one-year requirement necessary to be eligible for survivor benefits in situations where the couples were legally barred from marrying within one year of the participant’s death. As the letter explains, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recently took action to stop such obstacles from denying people survivor benefits through Social Security, and the senators urged the IRS to take similar action to ensure individuals aren’t denied pension survivor benefits due to discrimination.

“We write to urge you to reconsider the guidance issued under the Obama administration that permits certain qualified retirement plans to discriminate against providing survivor benefits to same-sex couples,” the letter reads. “We should not let the echoes of the bigotry that robbed so many people of the right to marry for so long rob them once again after they have lost their loved ones.”

The letter continues: “When the Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, tens of thousands of Americans rushed to get married. These LGBTQ+ Americans had been in committed relationships for years—some, for decades—and were finally able to have their love recognized under the law and receive all of the benefits that come with marriage. However, in a painful reminder of the inequality these couples have long faced, some in same-sex relationships who tragically lost their partner shortly after being married or before they were able to legally marry have also been kept from receiving survivor benefits. For these surviving spouses or partners, difficulties arise where access to benefits depends on the length of their marriage.”