Surviving Partner Of Missouri State Trooper Killed On Duty Challenges Discriminatory Benefits Policy
Same-Sex Couples Excluded From Receiving Survivor Benefits
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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JEFFERSON CITY, MO – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri and the ACLU of Kansas & Western Missouri filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Kelly Glossip, whose partner, Dennis Engelhard, was a state trooper killed in the line of duty while responding to an accident on Christmas Day of last year. Missouri offers survivor benefits to spouses of state troopers who are killed in the line of duty, but excludes committed same-sex partners from receiving those benefits. Glossip is seeking the same survivor benefits provided to opposite-sex partners.
"Dennis and I loved each other and lived in a committed relationship for 15 years. We depended on each other emotionally and financially in our life together like any other committed couple. We exchanged rings and would have married in Missouri if the state didn't exclude us from marriage," said Glossip. "I'm just seeking the same financial protections the state provides to heterosexual couples. It is hard enough coping with the grief of losing Dennis. It is even more painful to have the state treat Dennis and me as though we were total strangers."
Spouses of Missouri State Highway Patrol employees are entitled to an annuity of 50 percent of the employee's average salary if the employee is killed on duty. Since Engelhard's death, Glossip has struggled with paying the mortgage on the home they both owned. While Glossip is not challenging the definition of marriage under Missouri law, he is challenging the benefits policy as a violation of his rights under the Missouri Constitution.
"Dennis and Kelly were a family in every sense of the word," said John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "They owned a home together, shared cars and bank accounts, and Dennis even helped Kelly care for his child from a former marriage. They vowed to take care of each other in good times and in bad. As a matter of basic fairness, Kelly should be entitled to the same security as other bereaved partners of troopers killed in the line of duty."
Engelhard was struck by a vehicle while responding to an accident on Christmas Day, 2009. Following his death, the governor ordered all U.S. and Missouri flags to be flown at half-staff. Kelly attended a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in May 2010 commemorating the loss of police officers nationwide, and was recognized with a medallion as Engelhard's surviving partner.
"Kelly is merely seeking the same treatment he would have received if his partner had been a woman, rather than a man," said Anthony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. "Kelly may not have been able to marry the person of his choice under Missouri state law, but he is still entitled to equal protection and the fundamental right to the family relationship he formed with Dennis Engelhard. He is seeking the same dignity and security for his family that is granted to other state troopers' families."
Attorneys on the case include Rothert and Grant R. Doty of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, Stephen Douglas Bonney of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, Knight and Joshua Block of the ACLU LGBT Project and Roger K. Heidenreich of SNR Denton.
For more information on this case, including a video, please visit: www.aclu.org/glossip