Mo. Supreme Court to take another look at gay partner’s survivor benefits case

Kelly Glossip (left) and Dennis Engelhard

Kelly Glossip (left) and Dennis Engelhard

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The U.S. Supreme Court decision about federal benefits for gay couples has prompted the Missouri Supreme Court to take a second look at a pending case.

The state’s high court heard arguments in February on a challenge to a Missouri law that denied survivor benefits to the same-sex partner of a Highway Patrol officer who died in the line of duty.

Kelly Glossip (left) and Dennis Engelhard

Kelly Glossip is suing the Missouri Highway Patrol for denying him survivors’ benefits after his partner, Dennis Engelhard, a highway patrolman, was killed on Christmas Day 2009 as he was assisting a motorist when he was hit by a car that had lost control on Interstate 44.

The couple had been together for 15 years.

The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Glossip, claims the department’s policy for survivors’ benefits discriminates against same-sex couples. He argues that even though a 2004 constitutional amendment prohibits same-sex marriage in Missouri, it does not keep the state from offering domestic partner benefits.

The state says the benefits are intended for spouses and the men’s relationship does not fall into that classification.

In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that that barred legally married same-sex couples from receiving benefits from the federal government.

The Missouri Supreme Court now has asked attorneys involved in Glossip’s case to submit additional written arguments in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Attorneys for Glossip did so last week. State attorneys have until next Monday to file additional arguments, and Glossip’s attorneys have an additional week after that to file a response.

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Missouri law entitles surviving spouses of Highway Patrol officers killed in the line of duty to an annuity. Glossip did not receive the benefit because he could not legally be married to Engelhard under a Missouri law and constitutional provision that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

His lawsuit seeking the survivor’s benefit initially was dismissed in Cole County Circuit Court before being appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Although the recent U.S. Supreme Court case dealt with federal benefits denied to married same-sex couples, Glossip’s attorneys contend in their recent court filing that there is a similar discriminatory principle in Missouri’s law that denies benefits to same-sex couples who are legally unable to marry in Missouri.

It’s unclear when the Missouri Supreme Court will rule on the case.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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