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The Boy Who Cried “DOMA is Hurting Our Families!”

17 Aug

Christina Santiago and her fiancee Alisha Brennon

Yesterday, a terrible story made it around the LGBT blogosphere like wildfire. It was the story of a lesbian activist who was among those killed in the tragic stage collapse in Indiana last weekend. While her story is tragic enough, and the fact that she was set to join her partner in a civil union next September makes it even more heartbreaking, another story was making it’s way around. Word was getting out that the Indiana coroner who was in car of Christina Santiago’s remains was refusing to release them to her lesbian partner.

The story claimed that the coroner’s office cited the so-called Defense of Marriage Act for it’s reasoning in not releasing Santiago’s body. This of course would make anyone’s blood boil. The very thought that simply because of someone’s sexual orientation, they would be denied their partner’s remains after a tragic accident like this is sickening. The problem is it wasn’t at all true.

Santiago’s partner, who was apparently in no way legally bound to Santiago in Indiana or any other state, was in critical care at the hospital so she clearly could not have shown up to the morgue seeking to collect her partner’s body. The coroner’s office was making arrangements with Santiago’s aunt (who was listed as next-of-kin) and a friend of the couple’s was also assisting with those arrangements.

Now the purpose of this post is not to place blame on who released erroneous facts or who said what to whom. I merely want to point out the fact that we don’t need to make up stories like this to illustrate just how damaging and hateful the Defense of Marriage Act is.

Hundreds of stories every year surface about partners being denied hospital visitations, about husbands being ripped apart because one spouse lives in a different country, about wives fighting for health benefits, pensions and social security.

Congressman Gerry Studds, Husband Dean Hara and their dog, Bonnie

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) has an excellent printable book on their site which you can get to by linking the image below. The book features 20 stories of how DOMA harms American families. Many of these stories are heartbreaking and I’m sharing one here. This is the story of Dean Hara, the surviving husband of former Congressman Gerry Studds. We’ve discussed the Congressman here before as being the first openly-gay Congressman. But here’s his husband’s story and how he’s affected by DOMA today:

Dean met U.S. Representative Gerry E. Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, through mutual friends in the early 1980s. They crossed paths in their Washington, DC neighborhood over the next 10 years, and began dating in January 1991. Less than nine months later Dean accepted when Gerry proposed a lifetime commitment and they exchanged rings.

Over the next five years Dean and Gerry as a couple attended congressional, public and political events in Washington and around the country. Dean wore the congressional spousal pin and in 1995 was given a congressional photo identification card as Gerry’s spouse.

Gerry decided not to run for re-election in 1996, and retired from public service after 24 years in Congress. He and Dean moved to Massachusetts with their new dog, Bonnie, and built a quiet life together with family and friends. They legally married in May 2004, one week after Massachusetts ended marriage discrimination.

On October 3, 2006 Gerry took Bonnie out for her morning walk. He collapsed from a blood clot in his lung and was rushed to the hospital. His health improved at first, but 10 days later his condition suddenly got worse, and he died in the early morning hours of October 14, 2006.

“Gerry and I spent 16 wonderful years together and I miss him,” says Dean. “I remember when he spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives during the debate about DOMA as I watched from the visitor’s gallery in July 1996. Back then, we didn’t know that we would ever be able to legally marry. Now that Gerry is gone, I’m always reminded that DOMA denies fair and equal treatment.”

Dean, now 53, works as a financial advisor and continues to live in Boston with Bonnie. Since Gerry’s death Dean has sought to be treated the same as other surviving spouses of retired federal employees.

“Gerry was a public servant for 27 years, worked hard for our country, and paid as much into the system as anyone else,” he says. “But after he died, I was treated differently than other surviving spouses. Every federal employee counts on their surviving spouses having basic protections, but the federal government denies me those protections because of DOMA.”

Make sure you go download the book from GLAD and share it with everyone you know.

 

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The First Openly-Gay Congressman

9 May

This Thursday would have been the 74th birthday of the first openly-gay federal politician. Congressman Gerry Studds of Massachusetts was my Congressman growing up and I can proudly say that both my mother and my aunt took a major part in getting Gerry elected.

When he was first elected in 1972, he was not out of the closet. It wasn’t until a scandal outed Gerry, that he admitted publicly to being gay. Gerry was censured by Congress for having a sexual relationship with 17 year-old page Dean Hara. He fought to avoid a hearing so as to avoid outing young Hara. But instead of abandoning his post, like many outed politicians do, Gerry was re-elected six more times, until he retired in 1997 after serving the country for 25 years. He fought for many issues, including environmental and maritime issues, same-sex marriage, AIDS funding, and civil rights, particularly for gays and lesbians.

Following his retirement, Gerry continued to lobby for the fishing industry – one of the primary industries of his constituents in Massachusetts.

Gerry Studds and his husband Dean Hara

Gerry defended himself regarding the scandal by saying that he was in a consensual relationship with the the young man. In 2004, one week after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, my aunt got a call from Gerry inviting her to his wedding. Gerry was marrying his partner of 25+ years, Dean Hara. Two years later, Gerry passed away following a pulmonary embolism. Due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, Dean was not eligible to receive the pension provided to surviving spouses of former members of Congress.