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Mo. Supreme Court Considering The Link Between Benefits And Marriage

The Supreme Court of Missouri
Flickr | david_shane
Thirteen people have applied to fill a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court.

Should certain state benefits be limited only to married couples, even though that could discriminate against gays and lesbians in Missouri?

That's one of the questions the Missouri Supreme Court will be considering after hearing arguments today in the case of Kelly Glossip, whose partner, Cpl. Dennis Englehard, was killed in the line of duty as a state trooper.

Glossip sued in 2010 after he was denied Englehard's survivor benefits. Under Missouri law, only married couples are eligible for those benefits, and only a man and a woman can legally get married.

In arguing to eliminate the link between marriage and benefits, Glossip's attorney, Maurice Graham, emphasized the financial burdens Glossip and Englehard shared over the course of a 15-year relationship.

"“I think people need to understand that there’s not a risk that some type of short-term relationship based maybe only on intimacy is going to meet the requirement," Graham said.

Assistant attorney general Jim Ward acknowledged that Glossip had suffered a tragic loss. But, Ward said, the state was perfectly rational in limiting benefits to marriage - which can be verified - in an effort to control costs.

"If the statues are struck down, a domestic partner benefit is what’s going to have to be provided under the law, and that that clearly will result in a substantial expansion of the survivor benefit," Ward said. He noted that the pension system to which Englehard belonged already has 7,000 members.

Graham pointed out that other political subdivisions provide benefits to same-sex couples without huge additional expenses.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.