News (USA)

Mo. Supreme Court hears case in denial of survivors’ benefits for gay partners

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case that could allow same-sex partners of state employees to receive death benefits from the state’s pension system.

Kelly Glossip is suing the Missouri Highway Patrol for denying him survivors’ benefits after his partner, Dennis Engelhard, a highway patrolman, died in the line of duty.

Glossip (left) and Engelhard

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.

Engelhard was killed in the line of duty 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.

Glossip’s lawyer, Maurice B. Graham, told the court that the relationship Engelhard and Glossip shared was “almost synonymous with opposite-sex, husband and wife” relationships. The couple owned a home together, had joint checking and savings accounts, and were rearing Glossip’s son from a previous marriage.

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According to the suit, the pension system “categorically excludes same-sex domestic partners from valuable benefits provided to similarly situated heterosexual couples,” and asserts that distinction violates the section of the state constitution that provides equal protection under the law.

Graham argued before the justices that the 2001 state law spelling out that only opposite-sex spouses are eligible for death benefits sets up a special category based on sexual orientation.

Legislators “were making it clear that gay people in a committed relationship were not in any circumstance going to get these death benefits,” he said.

The court did not rule on the case and offered no timetable for a decision.

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