November 30, 2022
Source: Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
On November 17, 2022, Lori Long of Salinas, California, filed a complaint with the Social Security Administration (SSA) seeking a waiver of a federal law that blocks her marriage to longtime fiancé Mark Contreras. The law cuts off Long’s access to life-saving benefits if she marries. The complaint alleges that the law violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the U.S. Constitution.
Ms. Long, 51, has a rare disease that developed in childhood called hereditary ankylosing spondylitis. The bones of her spine fuse and fracture, and she experiences medical complications requiring multiple hospitalizations each year. She has difficulties performing daily activities.
Because of this significant disability, Long receives a Social Security benefit as a Disabled Adult Child (DAC). As a DAC beneficiary, Lori receives Medicare. She also receives Medicaid. Medicaid is the only health insurance program that covers disability services such as in-home support services and wheelchairs.
Under federal law, a DAC beneficiary who marries loses their benefits, with some exceptions that do not apply to Long’s situation. If Long marries her fiancé, she will lose not only her monthly stipend but her life-sustaining health care coverage.
Long is a devout Christian who considers marriage to be a religious sacrament and a fundamental right. She feels religiously called to marry Contreras.
“Loving and being loved by a man like Mark has been one of the greatest joys of my life,” said Ms. Long. “Not being able to enjoy that love within the sanctity of marriage has been one of the greatest sorrows.”
“Millions of Americans with disabilities are prevented from marrying the person they love because they need access to the health care, stipends, and disability services provided through their Social Security benefits,” said Ayesha Elaine Lewis, Staff Attorney with Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and counsel for Long. “The federal rules that cut off benefits upon marriage infringe on both the fundamental right to marry and the religious freedom of those who seek to marry for religious reasons.”
“The complaint asks the Social Security Administration to accommodate Ms. Long’s religious beliefs and practices, as well as her fundamental right to marry, by allowing her to marry without losing her DAC benefits,” said Claudia Center, DREDF’s Legal Director. “We also call on Congress to eliminate these marriage penalties.”