Ft. Myers Woman at Center of Florida Marriage Equality Lawsuit Finally Granted Late Wife's Social Security Benefits

For Immediate Release

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ACLU of Florida Media Office, media@aclufl.org, (786) 363-2737

Ft. Myers Woman at Center of Florida Marriage Equality Lawsuit Finally Granted Late Wife's Social Security Benefits

FT. MYERS, FL - The Social Security Administration has agreed to fully recognize the marriage of Arlene Goldberg of Fort Myers – one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Florida, and Stephen Rosenthal of the Podhurst Orseck law firm challenging Florida’s ban on marriages for same-sex couples – and her late wife Carol Goldwasser. As a result, Goldberg will now receive the Social Security survivor’s benefits to which she was entitled.

“I am so grateful to finally have this done,” stated Goldberg. “Carol and I were married, same as anybody else, and I’ve had to fight to have that marriage recognized. I am glad that the fight to have our relationship recognized is over, and that because of this case future couples won’t have to fight for that recognition.”

Arlene was one of seventeen people who, along with SAVE, a South Florida-based LGBT rights organization, are represented by the ACLU in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Arlene had married Carol Goldwasser in New York in October 2011. They had been together 47 years when Carol passed away on March 13, 2014 – the same day that the ACLU of Florida announced its lawsuit challenging the marriage ban in Florida. Because the state did not recognize their marriage, Arlene was unable to receive Carol’s Social Security survivor’s benefits that would have helped her remain financially secure following Carol’s death.

In August 2014, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in the case striking down Florida’s marriage ban. The order went into effect in January 2015, bringing marriage equality to the state of Florida. A request for final judgment in the case is still pending.

Even after the order compelling the state to legally recognize their marriage, however, Goldberg still struggled for over a year to receive the Social Security survivor’s benefits to which she was entitled. With the assistance of the ACLU, Goldberg petitioned the Social Security Administration to have her marriage recognized. She will now receive the full benefits going forward and has just received the past benefits she was previously denied following Carol’s passing.

“We are very happy that we were able to get this resolved for Arlene,” stated Daniel Tilley, LGBT rights staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida. “However, this is just one case. Social Security survivors’ benefits are just one of the many federal protections and responsibilities that come with marriage that most people take for granted. Now that the Supreme Court has held that states banning loving same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional, we look forward to future guidance from the Social Security Administration making clear that all surviving spouses whose marriages were wrongfully not recognized by their home state should be treated the same as anyone else.”

More information about the ACLU of Florida’s federal marriage equality lawsuit is available here: https://aclufl.org/issues/lgbt-rights/marriage-equality-lawsuit/

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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