The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled against a Highway Patrol trooper’s same-sex partner who was seeking survivor benefits.
Cpl. Dennis Engelhard was killed on Christmas Day in 2009 when he was struck by a vehicle while investigating a traffic accident on Interstate 44 in Eureka, outside St. Louis. Missouri offers payments to the surviving spouses of Highway Patrol officers killed in the line of duty.
The statute governing survivor benefits defines marriage as between a man and woman. Missouri also has a prohibition on same-sex marriage in the state constitution and in state law.
Engelhard’s partner, Kelly Glossip, did not receive the benefit. Glossip argued that it violated the equal protection clause of the state constitution.
In a 5-2 ruling, the Supreme Court concluded Glossip is ineligible for survivor benefits because the two were not married — not because Glossip is gay.
“If Glossip and the patrolman had been of different sexes, Glossip would have still been denied benefits no matter how long or close their relationship had been,” the Supreme Court wrote. “The result cannot be any different here simply because Glossip and the patrolman were of the same sex. The statute discriminates solely on the basis of marital status, not sexual orientation.”
Tony Rothert, an attorney who represented Glossip, said it is disrespectful for the state to treat the men as strangers. Glossip and Engelhard lived together since 1995.
“We are hopeful that the people of Missouri will see how important it is to pass legislation to prevent discrimination against lesbians and gays,” said Rothert, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri.
Judges Richard B. Teitelman and George W. Draper III dissented from the high court’s majority ruling, which was not attributed to any particular judge.
“The plain meaning and intended application … is to specifically discriminate against gay men and lesbians by categorically denying them crucial state benefits when their partner dies in the line of duty,” Teitelman wrote. “This type of intentional, invidious and specifically targeted discrimination is fundamentally inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.”