Sunday, January 31, 2010

The outrage of inequality

There are people who claim that marriage equality is unimportant because gay couples can secure the same legal rights before the law as other couples merely by paying thousands of dollars to attorneys to draw up a web of contracts for them to sign. Such people are either woefully misinformed, intentionally dishonest, or making the claim for some reason of a personal nature—perhaps they simply want to deny gay people equality of rights but don't wish to appear bigoted. They harbor their bigotry in their heart they just don't want you to know about it.

The reality is that life isn't as simplistic at the anti-equality advocates claim. Consider the case of Dennis Engelhard and Kelly Glossip of Missouri. The two met in 1995. Kelly was raising a two-year-old son from a previous relationship. Kelly and Dennis fell in love. Together they bought a home and raised Kelly's son together.

Dennis worked as a highway patrolman. On Christmas Day he had stopped to help at the scene of a minor accident. As he was standing on the side of the road another car lost control in the snow and slammed into him, killing him. It was a traumatic time for Kelly and for the son the two men had raised together. But quess what? Kelly doesn't legally exist, neither does his son. Yes, they are living, breathing, human beings who had shared the life of Dennis Engelhard, but when it comes to the law they don't exist. They are strangers to Dennis.

Engelhard's co-workers knew he was in a long-term relationship and that he and Kelly were raising a son together. It wasn't a secret. A blog at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says:
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.
The "fraternal organization" decided they wouldn't help either, but more on that in a moment. The Governor priased Engelhard publicly for his service and referred to him merely as a "son and a brother" preferring to not even acknowledge that his partner, and their son existed. Patrolmen were with Glossip at the hospital where Engelhard was pronounced dead. The head of the local Highway Patrol said Engelhard was "an outstanding trouper. His lifestyle had no bearing on his career." So, it wasn't that the actual nature of the relationship was a secret.

The spouse of a heterosexual trooper killed in the line of duty would receive death benefits, as would the children. But the law in Missouri, thanks to the hard work of loving, compassionate, good Christians, specifically says that gay couples are not allowed to be recognized as spouses. The asshole Republican who chairs the Joint Committee on Public Employee Retirement, Ward Franz, was asked about the case. He said: "I personally feel that a relationship should be between a man and a woman. They still love each other and care about each other, but I don't think we can change the law for that." No, of course not, why recognize relationships that are based on love.

Let us turn to Backstoppers. They raise funds for law enforcement workers and fire fighters who are killed in the line of duty. They used Engelhard's death to urge the public to donate to their group. Below is a video on that. (More text is below that but the video formatting distorts the space slightly and it may appear this post ends there.)

Backstoppers handed a check for $5000 to Engelhard's mother, not to his partner of 15 years. The director of the group, Ronald Battelle, says that they were not originally aware that Engelhard had a spouse of 15 years. But he also says it doesn't matter. Since its a gay relationship it doesn't count legally and, "The parents are the legal next of kin." Engelhard's spouse, and the son they raised, just don't count.

And the police fraternal outfit, Masters, has benefits for the family of deceased officers just not for gay families. The head of the group, Fred Mills, said: "We have never paid benefits to a girlfriend or boyfriend. It's always been spouse and/or children." Of course, Engelhard and Glossip considered themselves spouses but the law wouldn't allow them to legalize that relationship.

What has shocked me has been the intellectual disconnect that the bigots go through to justify this. According to them, there is no discrimination here. No unmarried "partner" of a police officer qualifies for recognition. Of course, the unmarried partners of heterosexual officers are legally able to marry while the partners of gay officers are forbidden to do so. So the logic of bigotry goes like this: "You don't need the right to marry, since you can have all the same rights as straight couples, through expensive legal contracts. But, you can't have the death benefits given to the spouses of deceased officers because you were not legally married and the law says you are legal strangers."

The head of a right-wing "think tank," the Missouri Family Network, Kerry Messer, dismissed the matter. He said: "Common law marriage doesn't exist in Missouri for a very good reason. It throws other laws into a tailspin and muddles every other policy. The state says 'get married or live with the status quo' That's true for gays and heterosexuals." What sort of moron is this man? The state doesn't tell gay couple they can marry, he helped make sure of that. It specifically says, "You may not marry."

I should note that the church that the couple attended set up a memorial fund for Dennis Engelhard and has said they will use the funds to help Glossip and the couple's son. The church also had a memorial service with Glossip and his son recognized. Rev. Mike Kinman, provost of Christ Cathedral, said: "Even if we have a state that's not going to to acknowledge a love and acknowledge a relationship, we're going to do that. And part of how we do that is by writing those checks. And so I encourage you to give, and to give generously."

The official funeral, attended by hundreds of police officers, never recognized Glossip or the boy. And anyone who doesn't think these laws are driven by pure hate and bigotry need only read the vicious and vile comments left at news sites about this story. It is shocking how monstrous people can be.

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