Missouri’s Supreme Court denies survivor benefits for a gay partner

By Steven Anthony
Missouri School of Journalism
In a 5-2 decision on Oct. 29, Missouri’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s decision to deny survivor benefits to the gay partner of a deceased member of the Missouri Highway Patrol.
The case was filed by Kelly Glossip, who was denied benefits after his partner of 14 years, Dennis Engelhard, was killed in the line of duty.
The state rejected Glossip’s original claim for spousal benefits on the basis that the two were not married.
Glossip argued that denying benefits for a same-sex partner who legally could not get married in Missouri amounted to an unconstitutional discrimination based on sexual orientation. The state’s constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Missouri’s high court noted that the two could have gotten married in another state, which would have raised a different issue for the judges to consider.
“If Glossip and the deceased patrolman had been married in another state (or country), Glossip could have challenged the statute that prohibits recognizing same-sex marriages for purposes of Missouri benefits,” the court’s majority wrote in an opinion that was not attributed to any one of the judges.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Richard Teitelman argued the combination of Missouri’s constitutional ban on gay marriages and statutes that require marriage for governmental spousal benefits was a violation of the constitution.
“This type of intentional, invidious and specifically targeted discrimination is fundamentally inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law,” Teitelman wrote.
Glossip’s case attracted national attention after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. As a result of that decision, Missouri judges took the unusual step of asking attorneys in the Glossip case to submit new written arguments. The case had been argued in front of the Missouri judges in February.
A number of major Missouri political figures, including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, filed a brief supporting Glossip’s claim.