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!


Related Reading:

Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies at 61

Sally Ride: One (Former) Little Girl’s Memories

83-Year-Old Takes DOMA Challenge to the Supreme Court

Image Credit: NASA


Susan L.
Susan L5 years ago

Not fair! How many hetero couples can say they stayed with their spouse for 27 years? How bigoted of Michele H to say that since discovering Sally Ride was gay she has changed her opinion of her. Utterly disgusting. And yes, I am gay, not by choice but by birth, I cannot help it I was born this way, despite what millions of non gay people believe, that it was a lifestyle choice. I don't condemn hetero people because of their choice of partner so why should I be condemned?

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

REPEAL DOMA. I am really tired. I am really tired of American citizens just like me, passing through their lives with only a portion of the benefits I enjoy. IT ISN'T FAIR! Can't you GET this repubs? What would your Jesus do?

tiffany t.
tiffany t5 years ago

wtf century do we live in. Sally Ride is an amazing women and her partner deserves benefits just like any other human being!

"Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood."
Coretta Scott King

"Bigotry dwarfs the soul by shutting out the truth."
Edwin Hubbel Chapin

Shan D.
Shan D5 years ago

"If you choose to live your life with no morals and values then you don't get the right to have the same benefits as those who choose to do the right thing. I had no idea she was gay and that completely changes my opinion of her. Her partner has no right to get any insurance, as a married couple would, in the event of her death. Sorry but you chose that life now you suffer the consequences. No money for you, no "spousal" rights, nothing." (Michele H.)

Where to start with this $h!t? Michele, whatever benefits you have gained in any way whatsoever from Dr. Ride's research and discoveries - stop using them NOW. You don't deserve them. And tell us this: what difference did it make to anybody what orientation Dr. Ride was while she was in training/up in orbit? Her partner wasn't there with her, so it's not like they had sex in the space shuttle (no privacy for that, anyway). And even if her partner had been there, there's such a thing as professional behavior - those astronauts were damn BUSY!

Michele, I hope you get to go into space some day - right into the heart of a black hole, so your nasty little mind doesn't have to pollute our Universe any longer.

christine robertson

You can risk your life for your country and even die for it but becareful who you choose to love and spend your life with cause then we don't want to know you. Fun an adult can choose to do anything in their life but spend it with the one they love just because they happen to be of the same sex. She deserves everything that any other straight person deserves. Good luck to her!

Jim F.
Past Member 5 years ago

RIGHTS are RIGHTS, and the sooner we "get our heads straight" the sooner we can start becoming decent people. Humans have been trying to be decent and love one another for thousands of years, and we keep on killing each other because we say we can't understand one another.

SO, rights, for too much to ask? Serve your country, but be careful, it could cost you more than you expected. You could find that there are plenty of people on this Planet that can't be bothered with you because they don't understand you...interesting, maybe fascinating???

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch5 years ago

Her sexuality didn't seem to matter when she was getting all her training to become an astronaut, why should it matter, now? It's OK to put your life at risk for this country, but expect it to take care of your "family" when you die?

Sad, very sad.

pam w.
pam w5 years ago

Yes--sadly, it seems the WORST thing about being homosexual is the attitude of people like those on those thread. You know the ones I mean...Elaine, Michele, Steve...the "loving Christians" who truly hate your nature.

Prentise Wylie
pre,tpse w5 years ago

Lynn S -- Thank you for this often overlooked fact about homosexual people: "... gay people... had their sexuality been a matter of choice, and had they known of the hate and injustice that they would encounter in life just because of their sexual orientation, they would not have chosen homosexuality."

There was a couple in Hawaii with three homosexual sons who experienced AIDS and violence, and the parents completely defended their sons, saying that they would not have chosen to be homosexual, and they were not defying anyone by being so; if they could have chosen not to be, they would have.

Jen Matheson
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you very much for translating Ajila's comment for us, Barry. :)