News Law and Policy

Could Same-Sex Spouse Benefits Be on the Way for Missouri Citizens?

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Missouri Supreme Court could follow Kansas' lead in recognizing legal protections for same-sex partnerships.

Following the Kansas Supreme Court’s historic decision to broadly recognize same-sex parenting rights, the Missouri Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case that could extend survivor benefits to same-sex spouses.

Kelly Glossip sued the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri State Highway Patrol after his partner, Dennis Englehard, a public safety officer, was struck and killed by a vehicle while investigating an accident in 2009. Glossip argues that the relationship he had with Englehard should entitle him to the state’s survival benefits, which are benefits paid to the surviving spouse of a fallen public-safety officer.

Missouri law provides surviving spouses with an annuity equal to 1.6 percent of the average compensation of the officers, multiplied by their years of service. But under state law, those benefits can only go to a spouse who is in a “marriage between a man and a woman.” Glossip and his attorney argued that the definition of “spouse” in the death-benefits law violates the state’s constitution. This comes shortly before the Supreme Court plans to consider a similar challenge to a denial of spousal benefits under the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for purposes of federal benefits and other matters.

“Dennis gave his life protecting Missouri, and nothing can bring him back. But the state should honor his service by offering his family the same protections it provides to the spouses of other fallen troops,” Glossip said in a written statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri.

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Glossip also has a difficult case to make in Missouri. In 2004, the state’s citizens voted to amend its constitution to define marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman, and attorneys for the state argued that the legislature’s rational basis in limiting surviving spouse benefits to heterosexual couples was to preserve the limited retirement resources for those most likely to be economically dependent on a deceased member—an argument that has a “common sense” vibe that conservative judges tend to love. Whether that’s enough to deny Glossip benefits and endorse legislative discrimination remains to be seen.

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