In reading the article mentioned yesterday, about the gentleman who could not access his 58-year partner’s benefits because they had not been married long enough (Ron Lieber, New York Times, 2014), even though they had done so almost as soon as legally possible… I wanted to respond to one person’s comment. Left on the page now several weeks ago, it embodies the difficulty that these men have to go through. “I thought that SS was created for widows and orphans in a day when widows may not have had careers… In fact, Mr. Schacht and Mr. Frink presumably both worked and both had careers, so they really had no need to piggyback on the other partner’s SS.” (This is actually a combination of two comments, one a reply to another: one of whom self-identified as “Concerned Citizen”.)
This comment completely and utterly misses the point of the article: and even the issue in general. From the article itself we can tell that both men made decent incomes; one worked for an airline, the other for a bank. And, of course, this was at the height of American productivity. “Both men retired after long careers, and Mr. Schacht became a deacon in his church.” Much like my parents did… and many of my parents’ generation, who would be about the age of this couple. The couples paid into social security (or social insurance, in the Canadian context) with every paycheck, and were promised benefits. Heterosexual couples, whether only one worked and one stayed at home, or both worked and they both had careers, have no difficulty getting each others’ SS when one dies. There is no question about why the money is needed: it’s assumed. No matter what, retiring on a fixed income is difficult: to expect that because they’re gay and a same-sex couple they therefore don’t “need” it is utterly beside the point. It is their right: as it is the right of every other married person in the land (both lands). Just because they didn’t expect to be collecting the other’s Social Security for most of their lives doesn’t mean they should not get one more benefit of having loved the other person.
We all know that there is some stress on Social Security: Americans are not sure that the system will be able to pay out promised benefits by 2036. They might want to make sure wherever they can that benefits are going to the right person: but they should not punish same-sex couples just because they couldn’t get married any earlier. After all, it is all because of “Concerned Citizens” that the process to ratify same-sex marriage took so long, and Mr. Schacht had to wait as long as he did to get married. To deny him those benefits after 58 years of what was married bliss in everything but name is fundamentally insulting.