Lesbian denied spouse's Social Security survivor's benefits, attorneys say

TACOMA, Wash. — An Olympia woman is suing for the Social Security survivor's benefits the federal government refuses to pay same-sex partners.

It was a joyous day for same-sex couples four years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

It was a day bittersweet for Helen Thornton.

Marge Brown, her partner for 27 years, died from cancer in 2006.

"We would have gotten married had we been allowed to get married but were not allowed to by the state of Washington," Thornton said.

Social Security pays benefits to surviving spouses but won't pay Thornton benefits of nearly $1,000 dollars a month because she was never married to Brown.

That's why Thornton is suing in Tacoma federal court to end what she believes is unconstitutional discrimination.

"The federal government essentially tells her that her relationship is meaningless and that she's not entitled what we provide as a society to heterosexual surviving spouses all because they were considered by the government essentially second-class citizens in a second-class group," said lawyer Peter Renn, of Lambda Legal.

It's a case likely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This case is not frivolous at all. There are meritorious constitutional arguments that they are making. but whether or not they ultimately succeed is partly a political question," said constitutional lawyer Jeffery Needle.

Considering the addition of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, we asked whether the current Supreme Court would be favorable to this lawsuit.

"No is my best guess. No," Needle said, laughing.

But Thornton knows her life partner approves this fight.

"To people who say we're asking for something special, we're just asking for what straight couples receive who are allowed to get married. It's about fairness and equality basically."

Click here to read more information on the lawsuit Thornton's lawyers filed on Sept. 25, 2018 against the SSA.

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