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Faith Community Rallies Behind GLBT Issues in Missouri

July 19, 2011

ST. LOUIS - Members of Missouri's faith community are supporting a lawsuit against the state Department of Transportation, saying it highlights the discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members of their congregations.

Kelly Glossip is suing the state after his partner of 15 years, Dennis Engelhard, was killed in the line of duty as a highway patrolman in December 2009. Missouri offers survivor benefits to spouses of fallen state troopers, but excludes committed same-sex partners from receiving those benefits.

John Chasnoff, program director at the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, says this case isn't about marriage but about fairness.

"We just think that the essential fairness of the issue is that, if there's not going to be an avenue through marriage, that the state needs to have some mechanism for recognizing these partnerships and making sure that people are treated fairly."

The Rev. Rebecca Turner, executive director of Faith Aloud, says the Glossip case is a reminder that same-sex couples in Missouri face multiple types of discrimination.

"In Missouri, a person can still be fired from their job just for being gay. They can be refused employment or housing, public accommodations. And job security is a really important issue."

Several Missouri cities have domestic-partner registries, Turner says, but these are limited in scope, often covering only situations such as visitation at a hospital or jail.

It's time for the faith community to speak up for the LGBT members of their own congregations, Turner says.

"To deny gay and lesbian couples basic legal protections because of the religious beliefs of some people not only threatens the families - but it really threatens all of our faiths."

Chasnoff says 34 faith groups recently took part in a clergy breakfast to discuss the issue. Faith Aloud helped organize the event in St. Louis, and says more are planned throughout the state this fall.

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO