ACLU Challenges State of Missouri on Behalf of Dead Trooper’s Husband

Posted on 02 Dec 2010 at 7:44pm

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the state of Missouri’s Missouri Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol Employees’ Retirement System on behalf of a surviving same-sex partner of a highway trooper killed on the job.

From the ACLU:

Kelly Glossip and Dennis Engelhard had been committed domestic partners for 15 years when Dennis, a Missouri State Trooper, was killed while responding to an accident on Christmas Day, 2009. 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.

If Kelly and Dennis had been a heterosexual married couple, Kelly would be entitled to an annuity of 50 percent of Dennis’ average salary-support that would help Kelly pay the mortgage on the home that he and Dennis jointly owned.

The Officer Down Memorial Page has information on Edward Englehard here. It makes mention of his life partner and step-son. Press release after the fold.

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.

From local news coverage of this story:

Glossip said his relationship with Engelhard was no secret at the Highway Patrol. Glossip was listed as Engelhard’s emergency contact. They showed up together at a Fourth of July party attended by several other troopers. A room full of troopers mourned with Glossip at the hospital where Engelhard was pronounced dead.


“I’d take 100 Dennis Engelhards. He was an outstanding trooper,”
said Capt. Ronald Johnson, head of the Highway Patrol troop that covers St. Louis and surrounding counties. “His lifestyle had no bearing on his career.”

People who deliver first-class service to the country, do not deserve second-class rewards in return. Our families deserve better from our country.

Thanks to ACLU for stepping up yet again and making the case. Our future may indeed lie in the courts. Particularly when you contrast this action with the reaction of our elected leaders, as quote din the article linked above:

“The partner, plain and simple, is out of luck,” said state Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, one of a few openly gay Missouri state legislators. “I’m outraged that that’s the situation, but it’s the status of the law.”

ACLU is fast-becoming the most aggressive gay rights organization on the block, after challenges to DOMA, the Department of Defense compensation policy and DADT. You might consider becoming a card-carrying member of the ACLU.
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