Marriage Inequality

Did you know that in the year 2020, people with disabilities have yet to be granted marriage equality? There is no law banning people with disabilities from getting married but there are a set of laws that enforce negative consequences for people with disabilities who get married. Many people with disabilities require the support of personal assistants for their daily care, such as dressing, feeding and bathing. Fun fact: this type of care is not covered by private health insurance and is only covered by the government-run insurance, Medicaid.  Depending on how much support one needs, it is not sustainable to pay for personal care out of pocket.

Medicaid is health insurance for those who are considered low income and is often tied to an individual’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is an income one receives from the federal government if they are low income and unable to participate in substantial work due to a disability.

Whether it be two people with disabilities who are both receiving SSI benefits or a couple where one person is receiving SSI benefits and the other person not receiving benefits but working, there are negative consequences for either couple getting married.

Let’s start with the couple where both partners are receiving SSI benefits. Currently, as an individual, a person can receive up to $783 per month and can have up to $2,000 in savings. Any reasonable person would assume that when two people who are receiving benefits get married, their benefits would be combined to equal $1,566 per month and they can have up to $4,000 in savings.

WRONG. When two people who are receiving benefits get legally married, their monthly benefit is combined and decreased to $1,100 and they can have up to $3,000 in savings. That is a decrease of almost a $500 month in income, and a $1,000 decrease in the asset limit they’re allowed to save.

Now, let’s talk about a couple where one partner is eligible for benefits and one is not.

If somebody with a disability who is eligible for SSI decides to marry someone who is not eligible for SSI and has an earned income due to working, their income can cause their partner to become ineligible for benefits.

This policy is what the Social Security Administration refers to as deeming. Deemed income is when someone else’s income is considered part of your income because it is assumed you receive support from that income.

While there is no actual law that outright bans people with disabilities from getting married, there are inescapable consequences if they do so, causing many people with disabilities to never get married legally.

Here’s another layer to the story. If the Social Security Administration finds out that a couple is not getting married because of their benefits, legally, they can still hold their benefits accountable, as if they were a married couple. This policy is called holding out.

We have come so far in this country with civil rights in marriage equality, yet we still have a long way to go.

About Isabella Bullock: Isabella, or Izzy for short, is an employment specialist for the Center of Independent Living. She is an iced coffee enthusiast who enjoys getting lost in a good book. Click here to learn more about Isabella.