The Office of Personnel Management has clarified eligibility for retirement survivor benefits for same-sex marriages that occurred before the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriages eligible for federal benefits on the same grounds as opposite-sex marriages, a decision the high court expanded two years later by overturning state laws prohibiting the legal recognition of same-sex marriages.
In a November 17 Federal Register notice, OPM noted that after the initial decision it provided an opportunity for affected annuitants to elect a survivor annuity for a same-sex spouse if the couple had married previously but had been prevented by the law that ruling overturned, the Defense of Marriage Act. OPM later informed same-sex surviving spouses of deceased federal employees or annuitants who died before that decision that they could apply for survivor benefits, or reapply if previously had been denied due to that law.
The latest notice addresses situations in which the employee or annuitant died before the nine months of marriage required for a surviving spouse to be eligible for survivor benefits. “OPM will deem the 9-month marriage requirement satisfied, notwithstanding the actual duration of the marriage, to provide affected applicants with benefits they could have obtained had they been permitted to marry earlier in their states of residence,” it says.
Specifically, it said that will apply to same-sex marriages that occurred before the June 26, 2013 date of the first decision through one year after the June 26, 2015 date of the second decision, for those who resided in a jurisdiction that prohibited same-sex marriage between the first decision and the second.
Eligibility for survivor benefits may also convey eligibility for Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage as a survivor annuitant, it added.