Retirement and same-sex couples, a year after DOMA ruling

Something big happened in the world of retirement benefits a year ago today: The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

The court’s recognition of marriage equality has transformed life for many same-sex couples. In the realm of retirement benefits, the DOMA ruling opened the door for couples to receive spousal benefits from our two most important social insurance programs, Social Security and Medicare.

Since the ruling, Social Security and Medicare have made substantial changes that benefit same-sex married couples. But there have been complications.

The ruling quickly cleared the way for same-sex couples to be recognized for purposes of federal benefits in cases where couples were married in, or are living in, a state recognizing gay marriage. Most Medicare benefits have also been extended to married couples no longer living in states permitting same-sex marriage. But Social Security hasn’t yet extended benefits to states that don’t permit same-sex marriage because the Social Security Act’s definition of a spouse relies on the definitions in the state where an applicant lives.

Here’s where Social Security and Medicare stand a year after the DOMA ruling.