Attorney General

DOJ Opinion OKs Social Security Benefits for Gay Couple’s Child

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A Justice Department legal opinion says federal law does not bar the Social Security Administration from paying benefits to the nonbiological child of a woman who entered into a civil union in Vermont.

The October opinion (PDF), released on June 9, says the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal government benefits to same-sex couples, does not bar benefits for their children, the American Lawyer reports. The woman identified only as Karen had applied for benefits for her son, Elijah, because she was receiving disability benefits. She was listed on the birth certificate as “second parent” for the boy, whose birth mother was her partner, Monique.

The opinion by Steven Engel, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, says Social Security law allows benefits for dependent children even if a parent is not married or is not biologically related. “Rather, eligibility turns upon the state’s recognition of a parent-child relationship, and specifically, the right to inherit as a child under state law,” the opinion says.

A footnote indicates the Social Security commissioner had agreed to be bound by the Justice Department decision.

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