Social Security Administration initially told same-sex spouse legal name change will take up to one year

Posted at 4:46 PM, Jul 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-09 16:46:01-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A Kent County woman, and newly married same-sex spouse, contacted FOX 17 News out of frustration after she said the Social Security Administration office in Grand Rapids told her it would take up to one year to process her legal name change.

“This is the law, this needs to be recognized, and I am legally allowed now to have my partner’s name,” said Leigh Hendrickson.

After the historic Supreme Court decision last month to legalize same-sex marriage, the Department of Justice released a statement Thursday regarding equal treatment. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced federal marriage benefits are available to same-sex couples across the country, thanking in part the hard work of the Social Security Administration.

Yet Hendrickson said initially, this department shut her down.

“I arrived with much joy, and I left feeling pretty defeated,” said Hendrickson.

Saturday Hendrickson married her partner of eight years. Wednesday she said she walked into the Social Security Administration Office, with marriage license in hand, to change her last name. It was midway through the transaction that Hendrickson said the employee just stopped.

“She started processing it, asked for my driver’s license and started processing it, and as soon as she saw it was a same-sex union she stopped, she told me they are not processing these,” said Hendrickson.

After speaking with a supervisor, Hendrickson said the employee came back with an application, telling her to fill-it-out but processing it would take a while.

“I was in shock and just ended up filling out the application, and then she said it could take up to a year to process ‘these kinds’ of applications,” Hendrickson said.

When FOX 17 spoke with the supervisor at this Social Security Office, they declined to comment. We called the regional SSA Office in Chicago, and then representatives said they are reviewing the incident.

But in Hendrickson’s eyes, this is a matter of equal treatment now, not one year later.

“There was a woman right in front of me, getting her name changed, and had the exact same documentation as I did,” said Hendrickson. “But, because she was marrying a man, it was just a couple keystrokes and she left with a piece of paper.”

“It may not matter to some, but to others it’s our lives,” she said. “It is my life with the woman I love, and the family I love, and the friends I love. So it’s a little bit more than procedure for us.”

Later Thursday afternoon, Hendrickson reported that she got a call from a Grand Rapids Social Security employee who apologized. She said the employee addressed Hendrickson by her now married name, and then said her request has been processed, and she can expect to receive her new Social Security card within two weeks.