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ACLU files lawsuit against Ozark, Mo., fire district for denying spousal benefits

ACLU files lawsuit against Ozark, Mo., fire district for denying spousal benefits

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an Ozark, Mo., fire department captain seeking spousal benefits for same-sex couples.

Capt. Andrea “Andi” Mooneyham
Capt. Andrea “Andi” Mooneyham

The lawsuit, filed in federal court on behalf of Capt. Andrea “Andi” Mooneyham, cites an Oct. 3 decision by a Missouri judge that ordered same-sex marriages legally performed in other states to be recognized by the state, reports KMSU.

Mooneyham, who married her partner in California in 2013, has sought benefits through the Ozark Fire Protection District Board since earlier this year.

In August, the Ozark Fire Department declined to allow benefits for Mooneyham’s spouse after board attorney Todd Johnson advised that “Missouri’s constitution, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, does not allow the policy change.”

But following the October ruling, ACLU Legal Director Tony Rothert sent a letter to Johnson informing him that the district is now required to offer spousal benefits to its married employees, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Rothert says the ACLU received a response indicating that that the fire district still refuses to provide equal benefits.

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“After the court’s decision in Barrier v. Vasterling, Missouri law no longer allows government entities to ignore marriages,” said Rothert, in a statement. “Captain Mooneyham puts her life on the line at work and should receive the same benefits to other married firefighters and their families.”

Rothert says that prior to the October decision, Johnson’s caution to the board against providing the benefits “may have been legitimate legal advice,” but that is no longer the case given the recent court ruling.

Rothert notes that state Attorney General Chris Koster did not appeal the decision, and the deadline for an appeal has run out.

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