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Utah Social Security offices still denying married same-sex couple benefits

Several of the local Social Security Administration offices in Utah are still refusing to issue new Social Security cards to married same-sex couples, despite court rulings requiring them to do so.

Austin and James Vance, Dennis and Matt Gwyther, and Shelie and Ada Ingram have all legally married in Utah, and are entitled to all the benefits and responsibilities that come along with their marriages. But despite court rulings and instructions requiring state and federal agencies to comply and grant same-sex couples their benefits, they are still being rejected.

Austin and James Vance, who married in December of 2013, say that the Social Security offices’ refusal to issue new social security cards has created huge problems for them, including Austin almost losing a new job when he couldn’t provide a social security card with the same name as his newly-issued driver license. The couple also says their home loan also almost fell through for the same reason.

The Vances made an audio recording of their in-person visit to the Social Security office in suburban Salt Lake City yesterday. On the recording, the office’s representative says their continued requests haven’t been submitted yet, despite nine months’ worth of requests to do so. Austin pleads with the clerk, “We have a directive from the Supreme Court, we have a directive from the 10th Circuit, we have a directive from the governor and attorney general; the federal government has recognized my marriage since January, how can you still be denying us? This is not okay!” The clerk responds, “I understand, you’re more than welcome [to file a complaint], but we have no procedures to process these yet and we can’t process them until we get directions from Social Security.”

The Gwythers were given an almost identical response. Legally married back in December, the couple recorded a 20-minute phone call they had with the downtown Salt Lake City branch yesterday afternoon. “We’re still waiting for a final decision and instructions on that,” the clerk can be heard saying. “It’s going to take some time.”

Arnold Astorga, the Social Security representative who denied the Gwythers, tells them the office is “not allowed” to grant benefits to same-sex couples until they are instructed to do so by the attorneys in the regional office. He refuses to give the name or contact information of anyone at the regional office for the Gwythers to call and appeal.

Upon being informed of the situation, John Mejía, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, said his office may open a new investigation into the situation. “I have no idea why [the same-sex couples] are still being denied.”

Missy Larsen, chief communications officer at the Utah Attorney General’s office, says she’s shocked to hear denials are still happening. “There should be no reason for them to be denied whatsoever,” she said. “[The Utah AG’s office] has no authority over those social security offices, but [U.S. Attorney General Eric] Holder ordered all tax stuff recognized quite a while ago.”

Social Security offices fall under the purview of both the state and the federal government, which is what makes the denials so unusual. After the Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case in June of 2013, all federal agencies were directed to immediately process benefits for legally married couples.

Shelie and Ada went to the Social Security office in Ogden, Utah, yesterday. Supervisor Scott Schlotz told them that “Upper management needs to make a decision on how to process the paperwork so that it is legal.” Schlotz refused to give them a time-frame for when the “decision” would be made.

Requests for comment from the Salt Lake City and Ogden Social Security offices went unanswered.

Eric Ethington

Eric Ethington has been specializing in political messaging, communications strategy, and public relations for more than a decade. Originally hailing from Salt Lake City, he now works in Boston for a social justice think tank. Eric’s writing, advocacy work, and research have been featured on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, the New York Times, The Telegraph, and The Public Eye magazine. He’s worked as a radio host, pundit, reporter, activist and electoral campaign strategist. He also writes at NuanceStillMatters.com

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5 Comments

  1. Unless they can show they were being ordered not to and will testify against those higher up….
    Go for the big fish.

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