On Christmas Day last year, I lost the love of my life, Corporal Dennis Engelhard. For nearly 15 years, Dennis and I built a loving, committed life together. We owned a home, shared financial responsibilities, and shared parenting responsibilities for my son, who regarded Dennis as his stepfather. We were a family, and Dennis and I supported each other like any other married couple, and would have gotten married ourselves, had Missouri law allowed it. Tragically, we would never get the chance to see that day come to pass.
We usually open our gifts on Christmas Day, but for some reason, we decided to open them on Christmas Eve last year. On his cards to me he wrote “to the love of my life and the man of my dreams.” I have kept those cards to this day. The next morning he kissed me goodbye, wished me a merry Christmas and said ‘I love you.’” I replied “Merry Christmas, I love you too!” It was the last time we would ever speak. He was supposed to be home at 11 am. Instead, I received a call from his lieutenant. Dennis had been in an accident, struck by a car while attending to a highway stop in the snow. By the time I reached Dennis’ bedside, he was gone. I held his hand, surrounded by his brother troopers, who all wept with me.
Dennis and I still lived in Springfield when he applied and was accepted to the state highway patrol academy. I tried to persuade him not to become a patrolman, because I was afraid he might be injured. I didn’t want to lose him, but it was something Dennis really wanted to do. So I gave up my job in Springfield, and we moved to Washington, Missouri to be close to his assignment. Dennis did not try to hide the fact that he was gay from the other troopers. He took me with him to social events with his co-workers. I always felt accepted as long as I was with him.
There were days after Dennis’ death that were some of the loneliest I have ever known. Neither I nor my son were mentioned in Dennis’ obituary, which just said that Dennis was 49, single, and survived by his parents, brother and sister-in-law and nephews and niece. When the governor called for the flags to be lowered to half-mast across the state, he asked the people of Missouri to pray for Dennis’ family: his parents and brother, but not me. Those moments made me feel that the family we had made for 15 years – me, Dennis and my son – was hidden, or purposefully ignored. Still, Dennis’ and my church celebrated his life in a memorial service and welcomed me as his committed partner. At a ceremony in May in Jefferson City, I was given the privilege as Dennis’ surviving partner of placing a flower in the memorial wreath that commemorated his life and the lives of other police officers killed while on duty in 2009.
Life since Dennis has been gone has been a struggle. Not only do I have to cope with losing my beloved partner, and my son has to struggle with losing his stepfather, but since Dennis was the primary breadwinner in our family I have also struggled financially. Spouses of Highway Patrol employees who lose their lives on the job are eligible for survivor benefits to help them get by. However, because the Missouri State Highway Patrol does not provide same-sex domestic partners of troopers the survivor benefits they provide different-sex spouses, I have been left with none of these resources.
I am not asking for the marriage laws of the state to be changed. All I am asking is for the same dignity for my family as is shown to any other Highway Patrol family in their time of need. Dennis gave his life protecting the people of Missouri, and yet the state treats his family as legal strangers. This is a disservice to his memory and a disservice to the promise of fair treatment under the law as promised by our state’s Constitution. That is why I’m taking this action today. Thank you.
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