LOS ANGELES — California and local officials joined hundreds of people outside of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood on Sunday morning to kick off a national grass-roots campaign demanding equal Social Security benefits for same-sex couples.
The rally and march — dubbed Rock for Equality — was put together by the center and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in conjunction with the Aids Community Action Foundation, said Jim Key, a spokesman for the center.
At the rally, Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, D-Calif., who is a member of the House Subcommittee on Social Security, announced that she would sponsor legislation to provide equal Social Security benefits for same-sex couples.
"I don't think it's right that Americans should be treated differently by the country they love because of who they love," she said, triggering thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd. "Right now, same-sex marriage couples pay equally into a system that they don't receive equal benefits from in return. Shame on this country for allowing that to happen."
As of now, people in same-sex relationships are denied Social Security survivor benefits from their deceased partners because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships as valid relationships.
Sanchez's bill calls for the Social Security Administration to recognize those civil unions or domestic partnerships as valid relationships for the purpose of disbursing survivor benefits that heterosexual couples with a marriage certificate now receive.
"I'm saying to the Social Security Administration, this must stop," Sanchez said.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who also attended the event, offered to co-author the bill.
"In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act as a law to protect the elderly from poverty. It was a great moment, but the act wasn't perfect," Chu told the crowd.
"In 1966, members of the armed services were added. In 1983, federal employees were added. And, in the year 2010, that will be the year people from the LGBT community will be added," she said.
About 700 people — young, middle age and old — attended the rally, including Maria Garcia, 44, of Los Angeles, who had arrived an hour early with her 23-year-old son, Philip Garrelts.
"Every mother should do this for her children," she said. "There should be equal rights for everyone."
Holding a cup of coffee in one hand and a dog leash in the other, Diem Tran, 29, of West Hollywood said she and her dog, Mochi, came to support the purpose of the rally.
"Same-sex couples should get Social Security benefits," Tran said. "It's different from the marriage argument — this is more about a need for economic equality."
Shortly after the rally, supporters holding up signs and rainbow and American flags marched down Hollywood Boulevard, past tattoo and souvenir shops, and then down another street to the Social Security Administration office chanting, "Equal rights, now."