Gerry Studds’ ‘Husband’ Denied Pension
Via Michael Demmons, I see that Gerry Studds’ “widower” will be denied death benefits.
Gerry Studds, the nation’s first openly gay congressman, pushed the country to another landmark development when he died Saturday: the federal government for the first time will deny death benefits to a congressman’s gay spouse.
The federal government does not recognize the 2004 Massachusetts’ marriage between Studds and Dean Hara, and won’t provide a portion of Studds’ $114,337 annual pension to his surviving spouse.
The federal law, defined by the Defense of Marriage Act, not only trumps the Bay State’s gay marriage law but reveals its limitations. “A gay spouse will not receive any sort of pension or annuity or anything like that,” said Chad Cowan, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which administers the congressional pension program under federal law.
This isn’t surprising, given that Congress went out of its way to pass DOMA and that even the Massachussets law was imposed upon the state by judicial fiat, expressly against the will of the state’s elected representatives. From the standpoint of the federal government and 49 or 50 states, Studds and Hara were simply not married (thus the use of scare quotes in the title and lede sentence).
Still, Demmons is right: This shows the limits of the “we don’t need marriage because we can protect each other by simply drawing up contracts” argument. Presumably, Studds left Hara as his beneficiary in his will, even aside from the marriage. That’s not going to override federal and state law on pensions, however, which almost universally limit the right to pass survivor benefits to legally recognized spousal relationships.