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Surviving partner of state trooper files suit over denial of survivor benefits

Saturday, December 4, 2010
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The surviving domestic partner of a gay Missouri state trooper killed in the line of duty has filed a lawsuit against the agency’s pension system, claiming its policy for survivors’ benefits discriminates against gay couples.

Glossip (left) and Engelhard

Earlier this year, we reported the tragic death of Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard, who was killed in a Christmas Day traffic accident in 2009, leaving behind his partner of nearly 15 years, Kelly Glossip.

Spouses of Missouri State Highway Patrol employees are entitled to an annuity of 50 percent of the employee’s average salary if the employee is killed on duty. But following Engelhard’s death, Glossip was denied survivor benefits because the policy excludes committed same-sex partners.

“Dennis and I loved each other and lived in a committed relationship for 15 years,” said Glossip. “We depended on each other emotionally and financially in our life together like any other committed couple. We exchanged rings and would have married in Missouri if the state didn’t exclude us from marriage.

“I‘m just seeking the same financial protections the state provides to heterosexual couples. It is hard enough coping with the grief of losing Dennis. It is even more painful to have the state treat Dennis and me as though we were total strangers.”

The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri and the ACLU of Kansas & Western Missouri, is not challenging the definition of marriage under Missouri law — which is, one man and one woman — but is challenging the benefits policy as a violation of his rights under the Missouri Constitution.

The suit argues that even though a 2004 vote prohibits gay marriage, it does not keep the state from offering domestic partner benefits.

The pension system, the suit says, “categorically excludes same-sex domestic partners from valuable benefits provided to similarly situated heterosexual couples,” a violation, according to the suit, of the section of the state constitution that provides equal protection under the law.

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