T Nation

Gay Congressman's Spouse Denied Benefits

Will this provoke a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act?

BOSTON - Former Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, was married to another man in Massachusetts at the time of his death, but the federal government will not pay death benefits to his spouse.

Studds married Dean Hara in 2004 after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. But Hara will not be eligible to receive any portion of Studds’ estimated $114,337 annual pension because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bars the federal government from recognizing Studds’ marriage.

Peter Graves, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the congressional pension program, said same-sex partners are not recognized as spouses for any marriage benefits. He said Studds’ case was the first of its kind known to the agency.

Under federal law, pensions can be denied only to lawmakers’ same-sex partners and people convicted of espionage or treason, Graves said.

Studds, 69, had his homosexuality exposed during a teenage page sex scandal in 1983. He died Saturday, several days after collapsing while walking his dog. Doctors said he had developed two blood clots.

Graves said Studds could have purchased an insurable interest annuity, similar to an insurance policy, which is allowed under both the civil service and federal employee retirement system and is not affected by the Defense of Marriage Act. Graves said he did not know if Studds used that option.

Pete Sepp, spokesman for the nonprofit watchdog group National Taxpayers Union, estimated Studds’ annual pension at $114,337.

That would have made Hara eligible for a lifetime annual pension of about $62,000, which would grow with inflation, if the marriage were recognized by the federal government, Sepp said.

Hara, 48, declined to comment on the matter.

Gary Buseck, legal director for an advocacy group called Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said Studds’ case may offer “a moment of education for Congress.”

“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,” Buseck said.

In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage after gay and lesbian couples successfully sued for the right to marry.

Studds was elected to Congress in 1972. In 1983, a 27-year-old man disclosed that he and Studds had a sexual relationship a decade earlier when he was a teenage congressional page. The House censured Studds, who revealed on the House floor that he was gay.

Voters continued to re-elect him until he retired in 1997 to become a lobbyist for the fishing industry and environmental causes.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061018/ap_on_go_co/studds_benefits

Damn.

I guess this depends upon Hara’s willingness to take this to court, huh? I don’t know if the state of Mass. stuff can apply to federal government stuff. Is there a precedent ever for a state’s policy to override a federal policy? Is a Medical Marijuana in California contest similar to this?

Hmmm… I think Hara might be out of luck here.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:

Under federal law, pensions can be denied only to lawmakers’ same-sex partners and people convicted of espionage or treason, Graves said.[/quote]

I’m certainly not pro-gay wrt the letter of the law, but WTF? Someone convicted of a slew of crimes other than espionage and/or treason is elligible and not an (otherwise) law-abiding homosexual?

Should’ve bought the annuity.

Just as a point of reference…a Mod must have changed the title of the thread.

But it wasn’t the Congressman’s wife that was denied benefits, but rather his spouse from a gay marriage instituted at the state level.

There is no wife in play here.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
There is no wife in play here.[/quote]

Sure there is.

Would it have mattered if the word was “husband”?

It’s still a legally married partner. According to Mass. law.

I don’t see a positive outcome here. I repeat: Is there a precedent for state law overriding a federal law?

[quote]lothario1132 wrote:
thunderbolt23 wrote:
There is no wife in play here.

Sure there is.

Would it have mattered if the word was “husband”?[/quote]

No, Loth - I mean the title of the thread was changed by the Moderator and it made it look like his wife wasn’t getting benefits.

I originally titled the thread “Gay Congressman’s Spouse” - I was just correcting the Mod’s modification for those that thought this was about something else.

Well, not so much a matter of a state law trumping a federal law - which it doesn’t - but there might be some noise made under the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
I originally titled the thread “Gay Congressman’s Spouse” - I was just correcting the Mod’s modification for those that thought this was about something else.
[/quote]

Sorry about the confusion. All taken care of. Carry on. :slight_smile:

[quote]lothario1132 wrote:
thunderbolt23 wrote:
There is no wife in play here.

Sure there is.[/quote]

No there isn’t, wife specifically refers to the female gender. If the spouse has a Y chromosome and testicles, he doesn’t fit the description.

At least it would’ve been the correct gender. I think you’re making a good example of the ‘slippery slope’ argument.

What if the spouse were a transexual? Or merely a female identifying transvestite? I wonder if that pension office checks that stuff.

The thing that bothers me most about this article is that congressmen are getting lifetime pensions of over 100k per year.

[quote]lucasa wrote:
At least it would’ve been the correct gender. I think you’re making a good example of the ‘slippery slope’ argument.

[/quote]
And this is why we’re just gonna have to disagree here. Massachusettes says that two girls or guys can get married to each other, and that’s against God or federal law or whatever.

I think that the Protection of Marriage Act is the gayest thing we’ve done as a nation in a long time.

The real point here is whether or not Mass. can dictate policy for the federal government. Which I think it can’t.

[quote]etaco wrote:

The thing that bothers me most about this article is that congressmen are getting lifetime pensions of over 100k per year.[/quote]

Me too. The rich get richer.

It’s pretty simple.

The Massachusetts law only applies to state-level benefits.

No federal benefits are currently available to gay couples, no matter where they are married.

Which is why granting civil unions/marriages only at the state level is unacceptable. There needs to be federal recognition in order to treat gays fairly.

[quote]forlife wrote:
It’s pretty simple.

The Massachusetts law only applies to state-level benefits.

No federal benefits are currently available to gay couples, no matter where they are married.[/quote]

No one disputes this - what will be remain to be seen is if this will be used as a test case, since one of the parties had a high political profile.

It doesn’t look like much will be made of this other than a couple of news articles. Likely the proponents of gay marriage realize there is no answer in the courts.

It will have to happen at the state level first. And the chance of the DOMA - signed by Clinton - being repealed as to the federal recognition is unlikely to be done.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
No one disputes this - [/quote]

Lothario was asking whether Massachusetts state law on marriage grants any federal benefits. The answer is no.

I don’t think this would be a test case unless the surviving partner chose to challenge DOMA in the courts, which he is unlikely to do (and would probably be unsuccessful given today’s climate). In time though, as more couples are married at the state level, I think it will happen.

I believe the next step will occur when someone like Barrack Obama becomes president. Obama favors civil unions (but not marriage) for gays, and while he focuses on the state level, he supports equality when it comes to hospital visitation rights, employment nondiscrimination, etc.

I wouldn’t be surprised if basic rights like that eventually received federal recognition…and hopefully after that, the financial rights of social security benefits and tax breaks would follow.

I’ve always said that I don’t care what they call it…if it bothers people to apply the term “marriage” to a same sex couple, call it a civil union instead. It is receiving equal rights and benefits that matters to me.

[quote]forlife wrote:

I’ve always said that I don’t care what they call it…if it bothers people to apply the term “marriage” to a same sex couple, call it a civil union instead. It is receiving equal rights and benefits that matters to me.
[/quote]

I agree. The term marriage bothers me because it is not a marriage no more than a cat is a dog just because they are both pets.

Nevertheless gay couples in committed, formalized relationships should have essentially equal treatment as married couples.

Perhaps the government shouldn’t recognize marriage at all. Maybe marriage (or whatever the hell you want to call it) should be left between private citizens, and their private institutions.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Perhaps the government shouldn’t recognize marriage at all. Maybe marriage (or whatever the hell you want to call it) should be left between private citizens, and their private institutions.[/quote]

This is a fair solution to the problem. The only thing against this idea is the fact that marriage is good for society. This fact is not in dispute, as many studies prove this.

So, logically, it is in a government’s best interest to promote marriage in some way. It just gets messy when there is a large group of people who think that being gay is not a part of the human condition, but is simply a weird fetish that shouldn’t be recognized as a foundation for a viable family unit.

There are studies which show that gay parents are just as effective, if not more effective, than heterosexual ones. Go figure. It’s just going to have to take time, I think. The country at large isn’t quite ready for this yet, and that’s a shame.

[quote]lothario1132 wrote:

This is a fair solution to the problem. The only thing against this idea is the fact that marriage is good for society. This fact is not in dispute, as many studies prove this.

So, logically, it is in a government’s best interest to promote marriage in some way. It just gets messy when there is a large group of people who think that being gay is not a part of the human condition, but is simply a weird fetish that shouldn’t be recognized as a foundation for a viable family unit.

There are studies which show that gay parents are just as effective, if not more effective, than heterosexual ones. Go figure. It’s just going to have to take time, I think. The country at large isn’t quite ready for this yet, and that’s a shame.[/quote]

I’m not advocating making marriage illegal. I’m advocating making government blind to it.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
I’m not advocating making marriage illegal. I’m advocating making government blind to it.

[/quote]
I know, I get it. But what I was trying to convey here is that government has a stake in recognizing it somehow.

[quote]lothario1132 wrote:
Sloth wrote:
I’m not advocating making marriage illegal. I’m advocating making government blind to it.

I know, I get it. But what I was trying to convey here is that government has a stake in recognizing it somehow.

[/quote]

I’m not at all concerned with whatever stake our government has in the private matters of free individuals. To me, government should only be called upon when one individual infringes upon the liberty of another.

Otherwise, you end up with government dictating who, and how many people, can marry. What if bi-sexuals want to marry one person of each gender? Why should they have to commit to only half of their sexual identity? Or, why should polygamy between consenting adults, sound of mind, be illegal? Yes, yes, slippery slope arguement, I know. But, I’m asking these questions sincerely.

And remember christians (believe, or not, I am one) government is a double-edged sword. Today you may use government to recognize heterosexual marriages exclusively. Tommorow, others might use it to recognize other types of marriage.

The whole debate shouldn’t even be in the political arena. It should be between private individuals and their religious or secular orginizations, of choice. Each individual would be able to “Marry” whoever they wished. And, to use their individual right to not recognize marriages they disagree with.