Gay marriage ruling boosts key retirement benefits

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) means that the spousal benefits of the two most important U.S. retirement programs – Social Security and Medicare – will be extended to married, same-sex couples.

But for some same-sex couples, much will depend on how the Obama Administration, federal agencies and courts interpret and implement the decision.

Social Security and Medicare are the most important pillars of economic support for older Americans, and their spousal benefits are among the most valuable features. Social Security alone keeps 21 million seniors out of poverty, according to U.S. Census data. The survivor and spousal benefits of these programs are a major feature, but under DOMA, they weren’t available to married same-sex couples.

Social Security’s survivor rules permit widows or widowers to receive up to 100 percent of a deceased spouse’s benefit or his/her own benefit, whichever is greater. And a spouse can receive up to half of a living spouse’s benefit, if it’s larger than his or her own.

The rules even apply to divorced spouses in certain situations. Likewise, if a worker is eligible for Social Security disability benefits, a spouse or divorced spouse may qualify for up to 50 percent of the disabled worker’s benefit amount.

Learn more at Reuters Money.