Ozark Fire District's push for same-sex benefits halted

Thursday, August 28, 2014 | 6:35 p.m. CDT; updated 7:34 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 29, 2014

OZARK— A southwest Missouri fire department that was considering extending benefits to an employee who is in a same-sex marriage has been told that the state constitution won't allow it.

Last week, the Ozark Fire Protection District's board appeared ready to change its policy so that it could offer the benefits to Capt. Andi Mooneyham, whose out-of-state marriage to a woman is not recognized in Missouri.

When the proposal was presented last week, three of the five fire board members supported changing the department's policy to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states but put off a vote until its Sept. 2 meeting. Since that meeting, the board's attorney, Todd Johnson, wrote a letter saying Missouri's constitution, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, does not allow the policy change, The Springfield News-Leader reported.

The proposed motion would have changed the definition of spouse to "any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who are legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages."

Mooneyham said Wednesday that she plans to seek other legal opinions.

"It's our opinion that it's still a right we legally deserve," Mooneyham said. "Others are (offering same-sex benefits in Missouri), so it's not a legal issue in my opinion."

But Todd Johnson said Missouri statutes restrict fire department boards in decisions regarding benefits for employees, their spouses and children.

Mooneyham noted that some public entities, such as Missouri State University, offer domestic partner benefits. But Todd Johnson said different public institutions have different restrictions.

Jay Johnson, who helped write the proposal and supported it last week, said the board appears to have no options.

"Overall, I think the board would have liked to be able to do this for our employee to make all things equal, but until Missouri changes or something changes in law, we can't do anything," he said.

Board member Anthony Appleton had opposed the change and said Wednesday he received many phone calls and emails from people who agreed with his position.

"One thing we want to make sure Andi knows is that, for me, this is a legal issue and a taxpayer issue," he said. "I just want to reiterate that she is a model employee. This is certainly not about her. It's about the law."

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