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Judge: California Man Must Receive Late Husband's Benefits

The decision that ruled a domestic partnership counted as time spent married could set a precedent as more states allow same-sex marriage.

A California man whose husband, a civilian employee of the Navy, died after they were married for six months must receive spousal survivor benefits, a judge ruled, in a decision that could prove important for older gay couples tying the knot as more states allow same-sex nuptials.

Darryl Kapple applied for the benefits after his husband, James Bland, died suddenly in January 2014 at age 43. The Office of Personnel Management twice denied his claim, saying the couple was married less than nine months — the minimum required by the Federal Employees Retirement System for spouses to receive such benefits.

The couple married in July 2013, 11 days after gay marriage became legal in California. Yet they had been registered as domestic partners since 2005, which the judge said qualified Kapple to receive the funds.

"I conclude that under the circumstances of this case, the period during which the appellant and Mr. Bland were registered domestic partners before they married counts towards the nine months of marriage required for spousal benefits," wrote Chief Administrative Judge Benjamin Gutman, of the Merit Systems Protection Board’s western office.

Kapple, 47, of Cathedral City, said in a statement that he "cried tears of joy" when he read the decision. His attorney, Julie Wilensky, praised the outcome, noting the couple "clearly did not have a deathbed marriage in order to get survivor benefits."

Gutman’s decision becomes final on Feb. 20 unless the Office of Personnel Management seeks a review. The agency declined comment Tuesday.