In a sharply worded ruling this week, U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller ordered the Social Security Administration to recognize same-sex common-law marriages in Pennsylvania if the marriages have already been recognized by a state court.
Last year, John D. Roberts, a gay Philadelphia man, sued the SSA, claiming the agency was unfairly denying him monthly widower’s benefits after the December 2015 death of his spouse, Bernard O. Wilkerson.
In his lawsuit, Roberts, 65, noted that a state court in 2016 recognized his common-law marriage to Wilkerson dating back to 1990. The SSA, however, maintained it needed more “clear and convincing” evidence that a common-law marriage existed.
On April 23, in an 11-page ruling, Schiller said a state court’s recognition of a couple’s marriage should be enough evidence for the federal agency. Schiller also ordered SSA to pay about $28,000 in legal fees and costs incurred by Roberts.
“We hope this ruling will convince Social Security to follow the law in the future,” said M. Patrick Yingling, an attorney for Roberts. A spokesperson for the SSA couldn’t be reached for comment.