Wednesday, October 18, 2006
When same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts, among those who tied the knot were former Rep. Gerry Studds and Dean Hara. But getting married didn't protect them under federal law: Hara has learned he is not eligible for any portion of Studds' estimated annual $114,337 pension following his partner's death last week. The 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act blocks the federal government from recognizing the 2004 marriage between Studds and Hara or other same-sex couples. Studds voted against the act, which was passed July 12, 1996, by a vote of 342-67, according to the House Clerk's office. Gary Buseck, legal director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said the death of Studds may illuminate an inequity Congress enacted in "an era of fear and trepidation of gay marriage" when it appeared Hawaii might allow same-sex marriage.
"This is maybe a moment of education for Congress," he said. "Now they have a death in the congressional family of one of their distinguished members whose spouse is being treated differently than any of their spouses." Peter Graves, a spokesman for U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which administers the congressional pension program, said same-sex partners are not recognized as spouses for any marriage-related benefits.He said Studds is the first case of its kind as far as the office could determine. "Our office could not think of a similar situation having occurred," he said.