Waldlaw Blog

Friday, October 20, 2006

Remembering Gerry Studds

I grew up in Massachusetts. Every summer, as soon as school got out, my family would move to Woods Hole, where my parents shared a laboratory at the Marine Biological Laboratories. My brother and I would roam the streets and beaches of Woods Hole all summer, swimming and riding our bicycles and hanging out with friends. When I think "childhood home," I think Woods Hole. Woods Hole is a community surrounded on three sides by water. The majority of people there when I was growing up were in some way affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the Marine Biological Laboratories, or the Marine Fisheries. Then, of course, there were those who worked on or around the ferry docks, where ferries carried people to and from Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket on a daily basis. In other words, everything in and around Woods Hole had something to do with the ocean. From 1973 until 1997, Gerry Studds represented Cape Cod in the United States Congress. He was known best off Cape Cod for having been involved in the 1983 Congressional page sex scandal. On Cape Cod, he was known as a champion of the ocean and those who earned their livings working on it -- during his House tenure, he served as chairman of first the House Merchant Marine Subcommittee and later the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. Gerry Studds was very popular on Cape Cod for maintaining his local focus -- ceaselessly championing the causes of the folks who made their living from the sea -- while tirelessly working for peace and justice issues at home and abroad. He captured the flavor of that part of the world -- he was equally popular with the very liberal elite scene of the Cape Cod summer people and with the very different year-round population of fishermen and marine workers of one kind or another. Gerry Studds was the first member of Congress to openly come out as gay, back in 1983 when that year's page sex scandal erupted. He candidly admitted having sex with a 17-year old page -- not a crime, since the age of consent was 16 -- and at the same time publicly declared his homosexuality. He was publicly censured by the House leadership, and many thought his political career was over. Not Studds. Not only was he reelected; he received two standing ovations from supporters in his home district at his first town meeting following his congressional censure. Gerry Studds married his longtime partner, Dean T. Hara, on May 24, 2004, a week after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. In a sad footnote to Gerry Studds' long career of public service, Mr. Hara has been informed that he will not be eligible to receive Studds' federal pension despite their legal marriage, because he can't qualify as a "spouse" under the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Had Studds been married to a woman, she would have been eligible to collect $62,000 each year for the rest of her life based on Studds' 24 years of service in Congress. Because Studds was married to a man, that man will get nothing. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, this is the first time that the legal spouse of a Congressman has been denied a pension upon the Representative's death. Gerry Studds spent his entire life fighting for the things he believed in. It would be a fitting tribute to him if his death -- and the obvious unfairness of denying his legal spouse the pension that should rightfully be his -- served as a basis for our country finally turning from prejudice and laying the federal Defense of Marriage Act to rest once and for all.


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