Renowned Astronaut’s Partner Denied Survivor Benefits
Dr. Sally Ride was a lot of things. A renowned astrophysicist, a heroine to little girl science geeks everywhere, and also the first American woman in space. She was also a devoted same-sex partner. Many have said the fact Ride was a lesbian didn’t and shouldn’t matter. Except that it does matter in at least one very important way: Ride’s partner is today denied the benefits a surviving heterosexual partner could have received.
It wasn’t widely known that Ride was a lesbian, and indeed she never officially came out to the public, preferring instead to let her legacy as the first American woman in space stand without any other qualifiers or adjuncts. Since her death last week however, much has been discussed about the fact that Ride was in a same-sex relationship with Dr. Tam O’Shaugnessy, her partner of 27 years.
What many people may have missed is that O’Shaugnessy will be denied, per the federal Defense of Marriage Act, access to spousal survivorship rights that are open to straight couples through having their marriages recognized by the federal government.
As NASA documents show, Sally Ride’s domestic partner will be eligible for life-insurance payments if Ride designated O’Shaughnessy her beneficiary. However, there will be no standard death benefits provided O’Shaghnessy for which the partner of a heterosexual astronaut could have automatically qualified, all because DOMA restricts the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and equivalent unions–even if individual states do allow such recognition.
This fact has not gone unnoticed by all, though.
Indeed, when Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a staunch proponent of codifying DOMA, tweeted his testament to Ride’s life last week, saying, “Sally Ride ranks among the greatest pioneers. I count myself among the millions of Americans she inspired with her travels into space,” one Twitter user responded, “kind of despicable & grotesque that her partner of 27 years will be denied federal benefits, don’t you think?”
“Despicable” and “grotesque” seems to sum up DOMA fairly well, doesn’t it?
DOMA prevents same-sex couples from being able to access over 1,138 benefits federal benefits that are open to straight couples, even if they have lawful state level marriages. DOMA leaves surviving partners like 83-year-old Edie Windsor struggling for money because of estate taxes and having to petition the Supreme Court of the United States to hear her case; it prevents foreign-born same-sex spouses who fulfill all other green card criteria from gaining residency when they legally marry their same-sex spouse; and DOMA creates a patchwork of legal recognition that can leave same-sex partners in doubt as to whether they even have the right to be at their partner’s bedside should their partner be admitted into hospital.
Join Care2 today in calling on Congress to finally repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and end the dishonor the law does to so many people, people like Sally Ride and her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, and to same-sex couples across America who today are serving in our Armed Forces, who are our teachers, our doctors, our carers, our artists and our scientists, our neighbors, our family and our friends.
Take Action: Sign the petition to call for the end to DOMA!
Image Credit: NASA