[JURIST] The Missouri Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday rejected the claim [opinion, PDF] of a deceased state highway patrol trooper’s same-sex partner that the state’s survivor benefits statute violated his equal protection rights under the Missouri Constitution by denying him benefits based on his sexual orientation. The appellant, Kelly Glossip, appealed a circuit ruling to challenge the survivor benefits statute which limits the definition of spouse to marriage between a man and a woman. However, the court ultimately held that Glossip was denied survivor benefits because he and his partner were not legally married. Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] is banned in the state of Missouri. In a 5-2 decision, the court focused on the narrow statute covering survivor benefits, but also mentioned the legality of same-sex marriage:
The result cannot be any different here simply because Glossip and the patrolman were of the same sex. The statute discriminates solely on the basis of marital status, not sexual orientation. Glossip maintains that he and his partner did not marry because Missouri law prohibits same-sex marriage. This is true, but the benefits statutes that Glossip challenges do not prohibit same-sex marriage. That ban is in Missouri’s constitution, and Glossip expressly does not challenge it. Accordingly, he cannot use that ban as support for his challenge to the benefits statutes, which discriminate on the basis of marital status.
The court also stated in its opinion that a challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is an issue to be dealt with at a future time.
The heated debate regarding same-sex marriage is one of the most polarizing issues currently facing the US legal community. In October JURIST Guest Columnist Theodore Seto argued the fallout from the US v. Windsor decision is only beginning to show the role state governments will have [JURIST op-ed] in state constitutional modification, in addition to the possibility that a same-sex marriage case will reach the US Supreme Court in the future. In the past few months, many state courts addressed the definition of spouse as a man and a woman. In September a US federal judge expanded a Ohio court ruling permitting same-sex couples to name one another as a spouse on state death certificates [JURIST report]. Also in September a Kentucky judge issued a ruling in the opposite direction, holding that partners in a same-sex couple must testify against one another [JURIST report] because same-sex partners are not protected by the husband-wife privilege under state law.