People With Disabilities Want the Right to Publicly Marry

Renee Wood

Now that LGTB community has earned the right to marry openly, we, as people with disabilities, need the right to OPENLY marry AND keep our government benefits.  People with disabilities, in order to keep their much needed SSI and Waiver (in-home care) services provided by government, are forced either never to marry, or secretly marry, and them pretend to cohabitate as “friends”, or mask their spouse as a “live-in attendant”.  It’s 2015 – it takes 2 incomes to run a household of 2.  If it’s ok to declare those in our household as “roommates” or “live-in attendants” and keep our benefits, then why shouldn’t we be able to marry someone and keep our benefits too?!  It’s inconsistent for the government to say; “you can live together, and even share a bed, and we’ll still let you have your benefits – no matter the income of that person who’s posing as a “live-in attendant”, but if you get married, or declare your private religious marriage publicly, we will then put your incomes together and decide your benefits accordingly”.

Even if one openly marries another disabled person who is also receiving SSI ($700 per month), the government will give you one check and drop it by a third.  Instead of two checks totaling $1,400 per month, the married couple gets one check totaling $1,100 per month.  However, if they just live together – while sleeping together etc. they will receive individual checks of $700.   Now if that’s not a blatant declaration of how the government feels about people with disabilities getting married – I don’t know what is?  In this situation where both receive SSI and were roommates, nothing has changed except a license saying they are now married.

This devalues our love and relationship – relegating the care and financial responsibility of us to our spouse.  Not too many couples can afford to do this, and if the disability is significant, how is the non-disabled spouse supposed to work to bring in the total household income, take care of the disabled person’s physical needs, clean house, cook or whatever the person is unable to do, due to their disability, without some assistance?  Maybe having SSI and a Waiver makes the person with the disability feel not dependent upon their spouse for everything!  Not to mention many times people with disabilities and their significant others are forced to compromise their religious beliefs about marriage and sex because the alternative of living without some government supports is not feasible.  Many religious denominations require the couple to also have a marriage license to marry in the church (whatever happen to the notion of “separation of Church and State”).  This causes a quandary of moral and ethical decisions which a couple who’s in love should never have to quarrel with internally.  Some things they grapple with morally might be; Should we just cohabitate and sacrifice our values that sex belongs in the sacrament of marriage?  Should we find a church that will secretly marry us in the eyes of God and not require a government marriage license?  If we hide our religious marriage from the government we’re lying, and again, we are forced to compromise our values and integrity to get the benefits we would be entitled to if we did nothing different, other than, not have a marriage license, and/or publicly declare the true nature of the relationship.

What hurts more is when others try to placate your moral convictions with; “God will understand”!  Whether God will understand or not, is not the point, by saying God understands allows this inconsistent and unjust practice to continue thereby keeping people with disabilities from publicly declaring true marital status and discouraging non-disabled people into entering a public display of marriage with a disabled person who needs government benefits for care – rendering the relationship to that of concubine.   On top of it all, it’s just unacceptable to have to hide and pretend what you really are to one another just in order to survive, or at least not struggle, in hopes of avoiding health issues due to the hardship the government would place on you, if you were to marry.  My husband and I married and he has endured many health issues due to lack of Waiver services (in-home care) I would have gotten if we just lived together.

The LGBT community fought and won their right – now people with disabilities have to fight to openly declare their marriage without suffering irreparable harm that the loss of benefits can bring!  In having to hide our the true nature of our relationship, we can’t make medical decisions for our significant other, or visit them in an intensive care unit because we’re not a legally recognized spouse, or a family member!  Right now we have to sit and watch someone else make those decisions about the one we hold in our hearts on a daily basis, hoping their biological family members will graciously remember, or are willing, to consult us, because legally we have no standing in one another’s lives!


19 thoughts on “People With Disabilities Want the Right to Publicly Marry

  1. we need to change how government thinks about disability person getting married.we also need to change if person gets marry his or her benefits will not be cut.the olny way to get this change is start contacting your senators and representatives and first one should be Sherrod brown is head of social security committee.if you can get everyone on board with this issue,have everyone e-mail,phone calls write letters or text.asking them to change how the government thinks about a disability person getting married,if a gay person could get marry now why can`t a person with disability get marry.we need to change it now we need to give one an opportunity to get married with out any cuts.

  2. Excellent article Renee! I’m dealing with this same marriage issue currently. I’ve met a man that I truly love and he love me as well and we want to marry but because I fear I will loose my benefits we are forced settled as just being together and it truly sucks. I think this is a issue for our community to fight for! Let get the ball rolling so I can have my Cinderella dream wedding!

  3. Renee, I couldn’t have said any better. My fiancé and I’ve been together for four years come August, proposed to her in March of last year, and we‘ve been having all of these dilemmas. As advocates,this is the topic that we need to tackle,and try to change the laws.

  4. this must be done now.we must get the ball rolling soon,the longer we wait the harder it gets to get this done.

    • I feel our government has come along way since its birth in july 1776,we have put aman on the moon,but we have not allow people with disabilities to get marry,the way our government will take notice is to have every state in the usa march to Washington d.c to the door steps of the capital they will see millions of people with disabilities that want a change that will let people with disabilities to get marry with out any cuts for getting married ,they will also see millions of voters telling that change is needed,i feel it will get done soon .but the longer this drag on the longer it will take.tommorrow is the time of a new day also the time to get this started and finally to get married with out any benfits cut.this could be the most differcult issue we have took on ,but in long run we will get this done .it might take a couple years,because our government moves very not give up hope I see a bright future for people with disabilities getting married with out no benefits cut. and will live happy after.

  5. I’m Diana, 33 years old and I’m a Self Advocate I have been working hard to advocate for this issue I have Down Syndrome I’m in a Relationship with my Boyfriend for 6 years

  6. I am blind and in a relationship with my boyfriend who is also blind. We both work part time and receive SSI blind and SSDI. One day we would like to get married. This is such an important issue. Let’s do all we can to change the current laws. People with disabilitiess deserve the right to marry too. Great article!

  7. It’s an outdated and downright punitive policy and it needs to change. I’m not sure if it’s a refusal to acknowledge just how many families need more than one income to support themselves, an outright devaluing and dehumanizing of those with disabilities, or just some misguided belief that these disabilities and their associated hardships magically disappear with a marriage license?

  8. As a caregiver to the disabled community and the spouse of someone who is disabled, I see this as kind of a non-issue. Disabled people actually have more rights than non-disabled people do, since they are considered a vulnerable and protected population – they can marry anyone they choose openly. The point about losing their benefits is a serious one, however. This issue isn’t necessarily about marriage, it’s really about benefits. Once a disabled person marries, the spouse is expected to somehow be able to support them. Really this just is just a call to reform Social Security. And I agree that this issue needs to be tackled, pronto, along with a strong demand from the Public for universal health care.

    • Of course you are correct, theoretically there’s no overt law “forbidding” people with disabilities to marry. However, the penalty for taking this leap is so great most just can’t do it. Even if people who were willing to lose their SSI/SSDI (not that I think they should have to) usually the real stopper is losing Medicaid and Waiver which provides for care for the person with a disability to be independent of their significant other/spouse from having to totally care for the disabled partners daily needs. Finally though it just makes no sense why, if a couple lives as roommates they don’t count as “household income”, only if they marry. It just makes no sense!

      I want you all to know i appropriate all your comments and have heard you! i am going to draft an outline for legislation that will change this archaic Social Security/Medicaid penalty and find a legislator to introduce it. When this happens I’ll need your support to get it passed.

      Thanks again for your comments!

  9. Thank you for your comments. I myself am disabled and rely on a waiver for day-to-day help. I also am a certified benefits counselor off of a grant from Social Security. I understand and counsel individuals every day on how working will impact their benefits. I also understand the impact income will have on state Medicaid benefits such as waivers. My fiancé and I have not got married because he cannot get paid as an attendant. It is not just a federal government issue it is a state to state issue as well. Medicaid waivers are issued by the state and so are their rules. Some states are more generous than others in allowing a spouses income to be excluded. Unfortunately not in mine.

  10. Very well said! So unfair not such an issue for SSDI but this could decimate a couple on SSI with home care waiver or where one person works but income is very small. If ever there were a family values issue this is it. They made a huge issue out of this when the welfare reforms were developed, but it isn’t being addressed in the disabled community.

  11. AMEN AMEN AMEN!! My husband and I are legally married, but it wasn’t an easy decision and I think some around us were pushy in their opinion that we needed to get legally married in the eyes of God. We’ve managed to get by, but what about couples that don’t have a faith in God? How are they supposed to function without these benefits?? Even as a follower of Jesus, these benefits would help us so much. Hoping that the tide turns and laws are changed to help us win back these benefits without sacrificing marital status. 🙂

  12. Pingback: Marriage Penalty | Campbells World

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