Thornton v. Saul (formerly Thornton v. Berryhill)
On September 25, 2018, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) on behalf of a 63-year-old lesbian seeking spousal survivor’s benefits based on her relationship with her partner of 27 years, who died in 2006 before same-sex couples in the State of Washington were able to marry. The lawsuit filed on behalf of Helen Thornton in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington argues that SSA’s exclusion of same-sex couples from survivor’s benefits based on their inability to marry is unconstitutional.
If you would have been married to your same-sex partner for at least nine months before their death but were never able to marry because of discriminatory marriage laws where you lived, you may be a member of the Thornton class. Click here for the Thornton FAQ: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/20210218_thornton_faq
- September 2018: Lambda Legal files lawsuit against the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) in US District Court for the Western District of Washington on behalf of Helen Thornton seeking survivor’s benefits based on her 27-year relationship with Marge Brown, who died in 2006 after a battle with cancer. Marge and Helen were unable to marry before Marge’s death because of discriminatory marriage bans.
- January 2020: Victory! Federal judge recommends striking down as unconstitutional the SSA’s categorical denial of survivor’s benefits to surviving same-sex partners who were barred from marrying due to discriminatory state marriage bans.
- September 2020: Victory! Court rules for same-sex partners denied access to Social Security survivor's benefits.
- November 1, 2021: Victory! The Social Security Administration withdraws its appeal and opens survivor’s benefits to all surviving same-sex partners across the country who were barred from marrying during their loved one’s lifetimes, whether or not they had previously applied for benefits in the past.