The federal government has refused to pay death benefits to the spouse of the late Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress.
Studds married Dean Hara in 2004 after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. But Hara will not be eligible for any of Studds' estimated $114,337 annual pension because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bars the federal government from recognizing the couple's 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 scandal involving a former teenage page in 1983. He died Saturday, days after collapsing while walking his dog. Doctors said he had developed two blood clots.
Graves said he did not know if the former congressman purchased an insurable interest annuity, similar to an insurance policy, which is allowed under both the civil service and federal employee retirement system .
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.