President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act on Tuesday, effectively codifying rights for same-sex and interracial marriages into law. But the historic legislation left out some groups, such as disabled people, who are still fighting for marriage equality.
Activists and members of the disability community are pointing out that a disabled person is unable to marry a non-disabled person without risking the loss of their federal benefits.
Many disabled people rely on programs such as Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which both provide a monthly stipend to meet basic living needs. The New York Times reported that about 4 million Americans receive SSI. A recipient of SSDI is designated as a “disabled adult child” (DAC) of 18 or older whose benefits are linked to their parents’ Social Security.
According to the Disability Rights and Education Fund (DREF), those who receive SSDI can also receive Medicare and Medicaid, which provide essential services that aren’t covered by private health insurance. But people with disabilities who receive these benefits are faced with a “marriage penalty,” forcing them to live separately from their spouses in order to keep receiving these lifesaving benefits.
If an SSI or SSDI recipient were to marry a non-disabled person or someone who has a higher income, they would run the risk of losing their stipend, Medicare and Medicaid, according to DREF. Even two SSI recipients who get married would face a 25% reduction in benefits.
Efforts have been made to omit these penalties. For example, Rep. Jimmy Panetta’s Marriage Equality for Disabled Adults Act would eliminate the requirement that a DAC beneficiary must remain unmarried to receive SSDI and health care. The bill was introduced by the California Democrat in January and is in committee, according to Forbes.