WHAT OTHERS SAY: Missouri should not penalize people for sexual orientation

Friday, March 1, 2013 | 4:06 p.m. CST

In most cases, the United States says it’s against the law to discriminate against people because of their differences.

Physical, moral and cultural distinctions are accepted, valued and, when things are going well, encouraged. It’s what puts the spice in the stew, the swing in the step. We extend civil rights; we don’t curtail them.

We have enacted laws, established guidelines and enforced structures to make sure inclusion is part of our society. We also have redefined family since the 1950s to include all sorts of configurations.

Tolerance is what makes our great, big heterogeneous country work. For all of these reasons — and more — it is wrong to continue to penalize people for their sexual orientation.

This is what has happened to Kelly Glossip, the longtime partner of the late Missouri Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard. Mr. Engelhard was killed in the line of duty on Christmas Day 2009 while he was helping a motorist.

His tragic death left Mr. Glossip and his son, whom the couple were raising together, bereft not only of a loved one, but also of their family’s breadwinner.

The state is compounding the tragedy by refusing to pay death benefits to Mr. Glossip. The denial is based on the idea that the pension system is set up to award benefits only to surviving married spouses and dependent children.

Mr. Glossip is suing. He contends that his 15-year-long relationship with Mr. Engelhard was a marriage, that the couple would have formalized it if Missouri law had allowed, and that he is entitled to the benefits as a surviving spouse.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on Wednesday.

The lawyer for the state said that pension law provides support for those most likely to be dependent, opposite-sex spouses and children. The lawyer for Mr. Glossip, Maurice B. Graham of St. Louis, argued that the law setting up the benefits structure is discriminatory.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Virginia Young covered the arguments, and wrote that the judges were mostly concerned with whether a higher legal standard is necessary in laws dealing with sexual orientation.

The higher standard would make it more difficult for the state to justify treating same-sex couples differently than married, heterosexual couples.

A similar situation is being played out across the country as businesses and governmental entities try to work around the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits and recognition to same-sex couples.

In an effort to work within the law but be fair to the nearly 17,000 gay and lesbian partners identified among military service personnel and veterans, the Pentagon last month expanded some benefits to people in those partnerships.

In the same vein, more than 200 companies filed a supporting brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday urging it to overturn the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that they say forces employers to treat one class of employees differently than another.

Giving Mr. Glossip the benefits he is due as the surviving spouse of a state trooper who died in the line of duty is the least Missouri can do. Nobody asked Dennis Engelhard about his sex life when he went to work every day to protect Missourians. We should honor his sacrifice by paying the benefits he earned to the people he loved.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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