February 2, 2010

Cataloging another example of inequality on the marriage front

Posted in Civil rights, Family, GLBT issues at 2:52 pm by The Lizard Queen

Banning same-sex unions from being legally recognized is a curious business.  Prop 8 supporters in California have tried to make the argument that such a ban is not discriminatory, and yet witness the effect Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage has had on the lives of Kelly Glossip and his partner, Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard:

When Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard was killed in a Christmas Day traffic accident near Eureka, the agency described him as single with no children.

Gov. Jay Nixon called on Missourians to pray for Engelhard’s family, who “lost a beloved son and brother.”

Neither statement tells the whole story.

Engelhard, hit by a car that lost control in the snow, was gay. He left behind a partner of nearly 15 years who was not mentioned in his obituary or official information released by the Highway Patrol, although members of the agency knew about his sexual orientation.

If Engelhard had been married, his spouse would be entitled to lifetime survivor’s benefits from the state pension system — more than $28,000 a year.

But neither the state Highway Patrol pension system nor Missouri law recognizes domestic partners.

The combination of laws and restrictions combine to form quite a quandary: your partner can only receive your pension benefits after your death if you’re married, and you can’t get married because you’re gay.  (Yes, you can still marry someone of the opposite sex.  And Richard Loving could have married any white woman he wanted.  The situations are far from identical, of course, but I think the argument that a person could legally marry someone other than their chosen partner side-steps the actual issue at hand in both cases.)  More on that quandry:

Under the rules of the state pension system that covers the Missouri Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation workers, if a trooper dies in the line of duty, his or her spouse is eligible for lifetime survivor benefits. . . .

But Missouri pension law is clear about defining a spouse, recognizing only a marriage between a man and a woman.

Engelhard’s benefits cannot legally go to a next of kin. Because he had no legal children either, there are no survivor’s benefits under the pension.

So, basically, only married troopers and/or troopers with children leave behind survivors?  I appreciate that the rules of the pension system likely date back to a time when men were the primary breadwinners in the family, and single-income families were the norm, so a trooper’s widow would rely on that pension to support herself and her family after her husband was gone.  I also wonder if there might be financial constraints preventing survivor benefits from covering “single” troopers (be they actually single or just single in the eyes of the Missouri government).  Nevertheless, it’s difficult for me to look at this situation and not see how the rules as they currently stand privilege one type of family—and really, one type of trooper—over others.  I fail to see how that’s not discriminatory.

[Hat tip to PZ.]


1 Comment »

  1. You’re right – it’s discriminatory. And sad. And it makes me angry. I only hope that this one day becomes a major issue; at the moment politicians are too keen to see it all swept under the carpet. Thanks for the post, but now I’ll have to take a walk around the block to calm down! Cheers, Nigel.

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