Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gay Partner of Fallen State Trooper Sues for Benefits

When I have conversations with people about same sex marriage, one of the big things opponents try to claim is that gay couples don't need marriage to get all the legal benefits that married couples receive. Not only does this not address the fact that it still leaves members of the LGBT community as second class citizens, but it's also simply incorrect and the case of a Highway Patrol member in Missouri helps to prove that.

About a year ago, Cpl. Dennis Engelhard died in the line of duty. Now under the state's laws, spouses of Highway Patrol members are supposed to receive an annuity that's equal to 50% of the employee's salary. In Engelhard's case, however, his partner of 15 years couldn't receive the benefit because the men weren't married. This is despite the fact that his partner was named as the beneficiary on other assets. In other words, the couple tried to take the legal steps necessary to protect themselves but that still didn't work since same-sex marriage isn't legal in Missouri.

Since this is a prime example of some of the discriminatory legal challenges that same sex couples face, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Englehard's partner. The case isn't trying to overturn Missouri's laws against same-sex marriage, but is instead actually focusing on saying that these laws don't prevent Missouri from providing domestic partner benefits. Furthermore, the lawsuit argues that not providing these benefits in fact violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution by "categorically exclud[ing] same-sex domestic partners from valuable benefits provided to similarly situated heterosexual couples."

Although the case isn't directly dealing with the legality of same-sex marriage, it will likely be closely followed by those who are involved with the debate. At the very least, the legal ramifications of the case will have a large impact on the lives of gay couples in Missouri and could influence cases being heard in other parts of the country.

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