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Trooper's partner may not get benefits


Kelly Glossip, seated, and Dennis Engelhard pose for a portrait together. Engelhard, who worked as a Missouri State Highway Patrolman, was killed in the line of duty.

ROBERTSVILLE — When Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard was killed in a Christmas Day traffic accident near Eureka, the agency described him as single with no children.

Gov. Jay Nixon called on Missourians to pray for Engelhard's family, who "lost a beloved son and brother."

Neither statement tells the whole story.

Engelhard, hit by a car that lost control in the snow, was gay. He left behind a partner of nearly 15 years who was not mentioned in his obituary or official information released by the Highway Patrol, although members of the agency knew about his sexual orientation.

If Engelhard had been married, his spouse would be entitled to lifetime survivor's benefits from the state pension system — more than $28,000 a year.

But neither the state Highway Patrol pension system nor Missouri law recognizes domestic partners.

A fraternal organization that provides benefits to the families of troopers killed in the line of duty is also unsure if it will help Engelhard's partner.

Gay marriage activists say the death of Engelhard — hailed by the governor for making the "ultimate sacrifice in fulfilling his duty" — provides a poignant example of the need for greater rights for same-sex couples.

Others say that domestic partners should not receive any more recognition than unmarried partners of heterosexual troopers, who would not be eligible for survivor pension benefits either.

Either way, while Engelhard's partner is eligible for other benefits — possibly including a significant payment from the U.S. Justice Department — he is unlikely to receive any from the state of Missouri, which in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment recognizing marriage as between a man and a woman.

"The partner, plain and simple, is out of luck," said state Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, one of a few openly gay Missouri state legislators. "I'm outraged that that's the situation, but it's the status of the law."

'OUTSTANDING TROOPER'

Engelhard, 49 when he died, was killed on a snowy Christmas morning after getting out of his patrol car to place flares near the scene of a minor accident on Interstate 44. A car traveling westbound lost control and hit Engelhard.

The 10-year veteran met his domestic partner, Kelly Glossip, 43, in 1995. The pair were introduced by a mutual friend whose girlfriend was also a gay trooper.

Glossip said his relationship with Engelhard was no secret at the Highway Patrol. Glossip was listed as Engelhard's emergency contact. They showed up together at a Fourth of July party attended by several other troopers. A room full of troopers mourned with Glossip at the hospital where Engelhard was pronounced dead.

"I'd take 100 Dennis Engelhards. He was an outstanding trooper," said Capt. Ronald Johnson, head of the Highway Patrol troop that covers St. Louis and surrounding counties. "His lifestyle had no bearing on his career."

Engelhard and Glossip lived together in a modest home in rural Robertsville in Franklin County that is in both of their names. Glossip's teenage son — from a previous marriage, before Glossip came out as gay — regarded Engelhard as a stepfather, Glossip said.

Neither were formally recognized, Glossip said, at Engelhard's funeral last month, attended by dozens of law enforcement officials in Engelhard's hometown of Brookfield, Mo.

Engelhard's church, Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis, is hosting a separate memorial service at 2 p.m. today.

"I need closure and my son needs closure," Glossip said. "Something that's truthful, and not dishonest."

Under the rules of the state pension system that covers the Missouri Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation workers, if a trooper dies in the line of duty, his or her spouse is eligible for lifetime survivor benefits.

The yearly benefit is equal to half of the officer's average salary during the officer's highest-paid three years as a trooper. For Engelhard, the benefit would have been $28,138 a year.

But Missouri pension law is clear about defining a spouse, recognizing only a marriage between a man and a woman.

Engelhard's benefits cannot legally go to a next of kin. Because he had no legal children either, there are no survivor's benefits under the pension.

The law would apply the same to a straight trooper with a boyfriend or girlfriend, said state Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Employee Retirement.

"I personally feel that a relationship should be between a man and a woman," Franz said. "They still love each other and care about each other, but I don't think we can change the law for that."

'TRAGIC LOSS'


Engelhard is the 28th Missouri trooper to die in the line of duty in the agency's history, and the first since 2005. Patrol officials say they have never encountered a situation in which the survivors of a trooper killed on the job included a same-sex partner.

But, nationally, it has happened before. When a gay Tampa police officer was fatally shot by a bank robber in 2001, her domestic partner tried — and failed — to get pension benefits. A documentary, "Tying the Knot," chronicled the partner's struggle.

In Missouri, a statewide gay rights advocacy group, said the lack of benefits for Engelhard's partner highlights the inequality of the 2004 ballot issue — approved by 70 percent of state voters — that created a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Missouri.

"The 2004 marriage amendment didn't 'protect' anyone's marriage," the group said in a statement. "It only ensured that family members who survive the tragic loss of everyday heroes like Engelhard are treated with less respect and dignity than straight couples."

BackStoppers, which provides assistance to the families of local officers killed in the line of duty, gave $5,000 to Engelhard's parents after he was killed. BackStoppers director Ronald A. Battelle said the payment was made before the group became aware that Engelhard had a domestic partner, though that would not have swayed the group, Battelle said.

"The parents are the legal next of kin," Battelle said.

Missouri state troopers also have their own separate fraternal organization that will pay expenses for eligible family of patrol members who die in the line of duty — including up to $50,000 in mortgage payments.

But that organization, The MASTERS, has not decided how, or if, benefits will be distributed to Engelhard's survivors, said Fred Mills, one of the group's directors who was head of the Highway Patrol in the mid 1990s. That decision, Mills said, will be made later by the group's board.

While Mills called Engelhard's death "somewhat of a different situation," he said the benefit procedure would follow the normal process.

"We have never paid benefits to a girlfriend or boyfriend," Mills said. "It's always been spouse and/or children."

Glossip, who works for a medical billing firm, has received some money from the Missouri State Troopers Association. Glossip was listed by Engelhard as the recipient on a small death benefit plan — $500 — maintained by the association.

Glossip could be eligible for much more from a federal Department of Justice program that provides money to the survivors — including domestic partners — of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said the payment — which would be $311,000 for Engelhard — may go to a domestic partner if he can prove he is the officer's legal beneficiary.

Glossip says that Engelhard's family has provided him some financial support since the Christmas accident.

A phone message left at Engelhard's brother's home in Oak Grove, Mo., was not returned. A man who picked up the phone at Engelhard's parents residence declined to speak to a reporter.

Engelhard did not leave a will.

'WE LOVED EACH OTHER'


Glossip remains in the home he shared with Engelhard, about 16 miles from where Engelhard was killed. The house is filled with antiques the two bought together, and their dogs, a beagle and a Jack Russell terrier.

On the Christmas Eve before he died, they exchanged gifts — a robe for Glossip, and clothes for Engelhard that have since been returned to the store.

Glossip said that Engelhard never considered traveling to Iowa, which legalized gay marriage last year, for a wedding ceremony because he wanted to wait until it was allowed in Missouri.

"It just hurts so bad. I am his spouse — we loved each other," Glossip said. "If I was just one state north, this wouldn't be an issue. I wouldn't want anyone else to have to go through what I'm going through."

Source.
Tags: lgbtq / gender & sexual minorities, marriage equality, missouri
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