Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Shouldn't We All Have Equal Rights?

Last Wednesday, I made the two hour drive out to Columbia, Missouri. No, I wasn’t going to see the Tigers play, I was going to attend a town hall hosted by Promo, Faith Aloud and the ACLU to discuss the important issues surrounding a gay man who had been discriminated against by the state of Missouri. You might be asking yourself, “Wait, what do LGBT rights have to do with Faith Aloud?”

We’re glad you asked. Faith Aloud is committed to exploring all of the ways faith and spirituality intersect with issues of sexuality. We think reproductive justice and LGBTQ advocacy are intimately linked because they both are about the privacy of adults to make their own decisions regarding sexual partners and reproduction. Faith Aloud opposes stereotyping, discrimination, and any religious attempt to control the sexual behavior of consenting adults in a mutually satisfying relationship. In a nutshell, we supports all persons in their struggle to create the families they desire. Sorry about the shameless plug-- let’s get back to the issue at hand: the town hall meeting to discuss the case of Kelly Glossip V. MODOT.

At the meeting, there was a phenomenal panel of speakers from the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, Promo, and the Human Services Department of Columbia. But for me, the best part of the meeting was hearing Kelly Glossip himself speak. He told the story of how he and his partner Dennis met, how they dated for 3 years, and then had a commitment ceremony and considered themselves married for 12. He talked about how they had raised Kelly’s son together, and had built a beautiful life together based on love, trust, and devotion. He described the unbearable heartbreak of finding out his partner had been killed, on Christmas of all days. At this point he broke down for a moment, saying, “Even though it’s been almost two years since his death, it’s still impossible to speak about without crying.” He continued on to talk about the discrimination and disrespect he faced at every turn. At the funeral, the minister mentioned Dennis’ dog in the Eulogy, but not his life partner or the son they shared. Similarly, the obituary made no mention of the immediate family Dennis was leaving behind. Choking back tears, Kelly sighed, “It was hard enough to try to deal with the enormous grief of losing your true love. But it’s even worse to be invisible in your grief, to be ignored by the very groups that should be supporting you.” In attempt to gain much needed financial support for himself and his son, Kelly applied for survivor benefits that are promised to the spouses of fallen Police Officers and Highway Patrol. To prove his and Dennis’ commitment to each other, Kelly attached about an inch-thick stack of papers showing that he and his partner shared bank accounts, mortgages, cars, and the guardianship of a child. Yet his application for survivor benefits was the first ever to be denied. At the end of his testimony, Kelly looked down at his hands and said softly, "All I am asking is for the same dignity for my family as is shown to any other Highway Patrol family in their time of need. Thanks for listening to my story.”
Let me tell you, it is hard to listen to a speech like that from a sweet, unassuming man and not feel sad and angry about the bigotry he’s faced. And worst of all, as the laws currently stand in Missouri, it is not illegal to deny a gay individual of spousal rights-- in 2004, Missouri passed an amendment that would ban gay marriage. However, on the bright side, this amendment does allow for the opportunity to recognition of other relationships in order to extend full equality to all citizens. Therefore, under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, the ACLU will argue that Missouri Department of Transportation must not deny committed partners the benefits they deserve.

Tomorrow there will be a similar Town Hall Meeting in Springfield, MO. If you are anywhere near Springfield or have any friends in the area who might be interested, I encourage you to attend-- it was a very moving and informative experience for me, and this case has very important implications for the future rights of LGBT citizens. If you cannot attend, we urge you to follow the case, talk about it with your friends, and send letters to your representatives letting them know that the equality of all citizens is an important issue to you.

-Allison Pikaard

For more information about how the ACLU is taking on the case, check out their website: