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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Effect of State-Legalized Same-Sex Marriage on Social Security Benefits, Pensions, and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

John J. Topoleski
Analyst in Income Security

This report provides an overview of how the ban on recognition of same-sex marriage by the federal government potentially affects retirement income security of these couples. The legalization of same-sex marriage in five states and Washington, DC, may affect the eligibility for and payment of federal Social Security benefits, private pensions, and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Social Security benefits are currently paid to the spouses of disabled, retired, or deceased workers entitled to Social Security. However, under current law, same-sex spouses are not eligible for Social Security benefits because they are unable to meet the gender-based definitions of “wife” and “husband” in the Social Security Act and the gender-based definition of “marriage” established by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA; P.L. 104-199). Federal employee pensions and private-sector pensions regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA; P.L. 93-406) are required to provide certain benefits to the spouse of a participant in the event of the participant’s death. Under DOMA, both federal pensions and private-sector pensions regulated by ERISA are required to define a spouse only as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” In addition, IRA benefits available to spouses are not available to same-sex spouses as IRAs are regulated by the Internal Revenue Code. Under DOMA, the IRS does not recognize same-sex marriages.

Date of Report: January 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RS21897
Price: $29.95

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