Marriage Equality for People with Disabilities

Often when people hear the term “marriage equality,” they associate it with the LGBTQA+ community. Marriage equality for same sex couples was granted in June 2015 when the U.S Supreme Court declared that any ban on same sex marriages was unconstitutional. What about marriage equality for people with disabilities?

While there is no direct law that prevents people with disabilities from getting married, people with disabilities often experience indirect, negative consequences if they get married.

Loss of Income

Many people with disabilities receive Supplement Security Income (SSI) to help cover their living expenses when they are not able to seek substantial employment due to their disability. SSI is a federal, needs-based program that provides people with disabilities who have a low income with a monthly cash benefit. It’s often tied with free Medicaid. Given that SSI is a needs-based program, there is an income and asset limit for people to be entitled to this cash benefit.

When someone with a disability marries, their guidelines for their entitlement to SSI changes. Under current Social Security regulations, when someone who is entitled to SSI gets married, their spouse’s income is also considered their income. Depending on the spouse’s income, this can cause the person who is entitled to SSI to become no longer entitled to the benefit, or they get their cash benefit drastically reduced.

These regulations also negatively impact two people who are both disabled and receive SSI. For 2021, the federal base rate is $794 per month (rate may vary on employment and living arrangements). One would assume that two people who both receive $794 a month and get married, their new monthly income together would be $1,588. Instead, when two people who receive SSI get married, their income is automatically combined and reduced by 25 percent. Making the couple’s check in total $1,191 a month.

Considering the cost of living today, SSI does little to give one a livable wage, let alone a couple who are trying to survive.

Loss of Medicaid/Personal Care Attendants

Not only does getting married put the income of people with disabilities at risk, it also impacts one’s eligibility for Medicaid. Medicaid is a state-run medical insurance that covers medical expenses and personal care attendants for those who need support with activities of daily living. Medicaid is another needs-based benefit where one must have low income/assets. If a person with a disability marries a partner whose income is higher, the partner with a disability loses their Medicaid because their spouse’s income is now considered theirs.

This plays on the idea that it is the responsibility of the spouse with the higher income to take care of the other spouse. This is problematic because the cost of one’s medical expenses and/or personal care services can cost more than the average income. To make matters worse, most private pay insurances do not cover for personal care attendants. This means that someone needs to either pay cash or have Medicaid to afford a personal care attendant.

So, while there is no law prohibiting people with disabilities from getting married, marriage has negative effects on people with disabilities in a way that does not impact non-disabled people. People with disabilities are forced to choose between having the resources they need to live or marrying the person they love.

The ability to marry is a civil right and disability rights are civil rights.

About Isabella Bullock: Isabella, or Izzie 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.