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Utah Social Security relents – grants same-sex couples name changes

Eric Ethington
Written by Eric Ethington

After denying Utah marriage licenses as proof for a change in name to legally married same-sex couples for over a week, the Social Security Administration is now calling the couples and telling them to come back in for their new cards, showing their new names.

Over 1,300 same-sex couples were married in Utah between December, 2013, and January, 2014, during the brief window when marriage equality was legal in Utah before the U.S. Supreme Court imposed a stay on Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling that banning same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.

That stay left many of the couples’ marriage benefits, including name changes through Social Security, on hold. But as of October 6th, when SCOTUS rejected seven marriage cases, including Utah’s, LGBTQ couples were once again free to marry.

But as we have reported, while state agencies were ordered to immediately begin processing benefits equally, the Utah SSA offices continued to deny couples — even when threatened with a federal lawsuit.

Late Friday, October 10th, one of the couples married in December received an email from Sean Brune, the regional commissioner for the SSA, saying:

“Today we published policy update RM10212.035, Evidence of Name Change based on a US Same-Sex Marriage. This update instructs our offices to accept marriage documents issued to same-sex couples for marriages that took place on 10/6/2014 or later by jurisdictions (town, county or State) in the State of Utah as evidence of a name change. We are still awaiting instruction on marriage documents issued in Utah prior to 10/6/2014.”

In other words, SSA would now accept same-sex marriages in Utah for couples married on or after the court’s October 6 decision, but the 1,300 couples married earlier were still on hold.

It now seems that last restriction has been lifted.

“I just received a call from the Salt Lake City [Social Security] office,” says Austin Vance, who delivered a letter threatening the federal lawsuit from his lawyer to the SSA offices last week. “They told me they have just released a new directive, and we can now go in, confirm our address, and they will issue us the new [Social Security] cards.”

Calls to several of the other previously denied couples confirmed that they received similar calls.

 

Indeed, directive RM 10212.035 Evidence of Name Change based on a US Same-Sex Marriage instructs: “Accept marriage documents issued to same-sex couples for marriages that took place between December 20, 2013 and January 6, 2014, and 10/6/2014 or later by jurisdictions (town, county or State) in the State of Utah as evidence of a name change.”

Social Security has continued to refuse to comment on why or how the delay happened. Clerks had told the couples that they “needed to figure out the process,” but given that SSA uses a federal database that was updated 15 months ago to accommodate legally married LGBTQ couples, that explanation makes no sense.

The Administration has also been processing name changes and other benefits for couples in states that legalized same-sex marriage as long as 10 years ago.

About the author

Eric Ethington

Eric Ethington

Eric Ethington has been specializing in political messaging, communications strategy, and public relations for more than a decade. Originally hailing from Salt Lake City, he now works in Boston for a social justice think tank. Eric’s writing, advocacy work, and research have been featured on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, the New York Times, The Telegraph, and The Public Eye magazine. He’s worked as a radio host, pundit, reporter, activist and electoral campaign strategist. He also writes at NuanceStillMatters.com

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