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Why Many People With Disabilities Can't Have a Romantic June Wedding

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It is June, and the most popular time of the year traditionally for couples to get married. All kinds of couples join in the eyes of God and the people around them to start a life together. I am writing this fully aware of the upcoming anniversaries of both the Supreme Court rulings in Loving v. Virginia on June 12, 1967 and Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015. Any adult can marry anyone else without penalty, unless there are people with disabilities in the mix. It is 2022, so how does this continue to be an issue?

It is a well-known and often lamented truth that people with disabilities have a difficult time in the dating scene. Maybe it is shallowness or ignorance by people without disabilities. Maybe it is ableism run amok. Then, if a person with a disability makes it through that, there is another huge problem waiting in the wings should they make it to the altar. I refer to this problem as the SSI marriage disincentive; it also affects people on Medicaid.

This goes all the way back to the beginning of the SSI program. On January 1, 1974, Title 16 of the Social Security Act starts the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. After a long (and painful) look at the eligibility rules, I can only assume that they were written for the concept of two people who are both eligible for SSI marrying. Even if two people on SSI get married, the penalty automatically kicks in with the last number that I am aware of being about $200 per couple per month. From there, the SSI rules involving marriage get far more draconian in nature. The worst-case scenario? A spouse goes to work and makes enough money to affect the benefits of the other spouse.

Such a situation happened to me and the person that I was taking care of. During a review, Social Security asked my person about my job title. The state referred to me as a companion, and Social Security assumed that we were married. It took four months and a copy of the Administrative Code to get their benefits reinstated. How many thousands of times do this and other similar events occur in a year? People with disabilities should not have to choose between love, marriage, home, and family on one hand and being able to have what they need to function on the other. It is counterintuitive to invite people with disabilities to join the world around them and then make full participation in that world impossible.

There are much larger problems that need to be addressed here. Isn’t this the government interfering with the sanctity of marriage, and thus the practice of a person’s religion itself? If so, wouldn’t that violate the First Amendment to the Constitution? Then, there is the question of these rules strictly targeting Medicaid and SSI recipients. Shouldn’t there be an equal protection clause and possibly a due process test under the Fourteenth Amendment? Meanwhile, people with disabilities lack equity in engaging in the act of marriage, something that should be held in the highest contempt until these rules are repealed.

I have cerebral palsy, and the person I took care of also had cerebral palsy. Life for the two of us wasn’t easy, but it was worthwhile. The trend with these court cases would dictate that the government should stay out of the private affairs of people. Perhaps, SSI can be corrected to do a means-based income test on a person, regardless of marital status. The current system is broken and is in serious need of a fix. I will hope for a day when SSI will work with people and not against them. The promise of the Loving case needs to be inclusive of persons with disabilities also, or there will be no justice for us.

Getty image by Paul Vinten.

Originally published: June 7, 2022
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