Arizona, Indiana each grant death benefits to one same-sex couple

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Two US states that lack marriage equality will each allow death benefits for one specific same-sex couple.

When 62-year-old Vietnam War veteran George Martinez died of cancer, his partner of 45 years, 69-year-old Fred McQuire, was denied veteran benefits and Social Security because they lived in Arizona, which does not recognize same-sex relationships.

Because the two had legally married in California during the summer of 2014, McQuire sued the state of Arizona to have Martinez’s death certificate revised, showing McQuire as his surviving spouse–required to allow McQuire to settle his husband’s affairs and collect benefits.

On September 12, US District Judge John Sedwick ordered the state to recognize the couple’s California marriage certificate and revise Martinez’s death certificate, listing his surviving spouse.

However, while Sedwick’s ruling cited multiple rulings overturning marriage equality bans made over the last year, it applies only to McQuire’s case and has no impact on the legality of Arizona’s ban on recognizing same-sex relationships.

According to a press release by Lambda Legal, McQuire said, “I’m ecstatic and so grateful that my marriage to George is recognized. My birthday is next week and this is the best birthday present I could have ever hoped for. This is the highest honor that we could offer George and his memory—he would be so proud. Even though this ruling is for George and me, I hope this is going to help other families, too. No one else should have to deal with the pain and humiliation of not being able to take care of something as simple and sensitive as a death certificate for their spouse.”

It’s a battle that Indiana resident Veronica Romero now won’t have to fight, as the state made an agreement to immediately recognize her out-of-state marriage to Mayra Yvette Rivera, who has terminal ovarian cancer.

The couple, together for more than twenty-seven years, have two children and legally married in Illinois earlier in 2014. Rivera entered hospice in late July, making it clear that their family couldn’t wait until the appeals process had been exhausted.

Under the agreement, which also applies only to the couple in question, Indiana will recognize the two women as married for all intents and purposes–including on Rivera’s death certificate, when that time comes.

The case had a precedent in a similar lawsuit filed by Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, the latter of whom also has terminal ovarian cancer. In their case, Indiana recognized their union only after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered it.

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