KANSAS CITY — The gay partner of a Missouri trooper killed in a Christmas Day accident sued Thursday for the survivor's benefit denied him because the men's 15-year relationship was not legally recognized by the state.
Cpl. Dennis Engelhard, a 49-year-old Missouri State Highway patrolman, was investigating an accident on Interstate 44 in Eureka when he was hit and killed by a vehicle last year.
Under Missouri law, spouses of highway patrolmen and women and Department of Transportation workers killed while on duty are entitled to an annuity of 50 percent of the employee's salary.
But Engelhard's partner, Kelly Glossip, was denied the benefit — despite being named as beneficiary on other assets — because the men weren't married, and even if they had been it wouldn't be recognized in Missouri.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on Glossip's behalf in Cole County Circuit Court seeking to obtain the survivor's benefit for Glossip and others who find themselves in the same situation in the future.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Glossip said Engelhard never tried to hide the fact that he was gay from other troopers. But after the accident, Engelhard's obituary described him as single and made no mention of Glossip or his teenage son from a previous marriage, even though Engelhard considered the boy his stepson.
In calling for flags to be lowered to half-staff in Engelhard's honor, Gov. Jay Nixon asked the state to pray for the fallen trooper's family, including his parents, but not for Glossip or his son.
"Dennis gave his life protecting the people of Missouri, yet the state treats his family as legal strangers," said Glossip, who appeared alongside his attorneys at the St. Louis news conference. "This is a disservice to his memory."
The Missouri Department of Transportation and Patrol Employees' Retirement System said in a statement that it simply was following the requirements of state law in denying the benefits.
"MPERS' action is an administrative formality and the ultimate test of the law will rest with the courts," the statement said. "MPERS anticipates referring this matter to the Missouri Attorney General's office."
ACLU attorney Tony Rothert, who is representing Glossip, said his client had been subjected to "tragic and unequal treatment."
Back problems have left Glossip on medical leave from his job in patient billing at a suburban St. Louis firm, and Engelhard was the primary breadwinner. Glossip said he had given up a more lucrative career in Springfield to move with Engelhard so he could be closer to his partner's work.
Glossip, who still lives in the home the couple shared in Robertsville, said he had a tough time paying the bills and supporting his 18-year-old son before receiving a one-time federal payment of about $300,000, which is offered to families of fallen law enforcement officers.
"I am not asking for the marriage laws in the state to be changed," Glossip said. "All I am asking is for the same dignity for my family as is shown to any other highway patrol family in their time of need."
Still, legalizing same-sex marriage clearly was on the minds of activists who spoke at a news conference in Kansas City, where Glossip's remarks were broadcast.
Cathy Jambrosic, a member of a taskforce that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues for the ACLU office based in Kansas City, said the survivor's benefit denied Glossip is one of many benefits not afforded to same-sex couples.
She likened the situation to the discrimination against minorities that once was legal.
"I think we will look back and say, 'What were we thinking?'"