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.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Gender Issues, Law and the Courts, LGBTQ Issues, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark says:

    $114,337 annual pension

    They sure like to feed from the trough even after they retire, don’t they?

  2. madmatt says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

  3. legion says:

    This brings up a legal question that hadn’t occurred to me until just now… I assume from this that pension benefits aren’t considered “property” – in that Studds could will his (for instance) house to anyone he wanted to, but not the proceeds of his retirement. Is that how this works?

  4. Len says:

    If you read the remainder of the quoted article, you will learn that Bob Ney will continue to receive his pension even while he is in prison; as I am sure Cunningham is and DeLay will.

    Bottom line: It’s better to be a convicted felon in this country than it is to be gay.

  5. floyd says:

    len; and from what i hear , its better to be gay if you’re a convicted felon! since our prison system turns a blind eye towards inmate rape. they even seem to like it.

  6. Christopher says:

    Studds “husband” isn’t and never was his husband. All the queers out there get shafted again, as it should be.