Friday, January 20, 2006

Dying Lesbian's Plea for Benefits Fails

(Link) Laurel Hester, a New Jersey police officer battling inoperable brain and lung cancer, made one last attempt to transfer her pension benefits to her partner. The appeal was rejected.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Ann Rostow
PlanetOut Network

In Ocean County, N.J., cancer-stricken police officer Laurel Hester made one last and unsuccessful plea to the five-member panel of county freeholders to allow her registered domestic partner to receive her pension.

Hester, who has weeks to live, videotaped the appeal two weeks ago. It was shown Wednesday night to a packed room at the monthly freeholders' meeting, but to no avail. Once again, the freeholders denied her request, citing costs. As the New York Times speculates, Hester will probably die before the matter can be raised again.

New Jersey's domestic partner registry went into effect in July 2004. Hailed at the time, the statute provided limited rights to registered partners, and ensured that state employees received partner benefits. Beyond that, each county was free to set up local benefit packages, but to date only five have done so.

The gaps in coverage have been brought to light not just by Hester's plight, but also by the case of a Perth Amboy woman, Betty Jordan, who lost title to her house, car and bank account when her registered domestic partner died suddenly without a will.

Last week, outgoing Gov. Richard Codey signed legislation expanding the domestic partner act to include inheritance rights and certain guardianship features. Those amendments, initiated in response to both cases, passed the state Legislature with only six House votes in opposition.

New Jersey is also the venue for one of the most promising marriage equality lawsuits in the country. Launched by Lambda Legal in 2002, the case is at the penultimate stage with oral arguments scheduled Feb. 15 before the state Supreme Court. New Jersey's high court has issued several rulings in favor of gay plaintiffs, notably the decision ordering the Boy Scouts of America to cease sexual orientation discrimination. That decision was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.

But a ruling in favor of marriage equality, if it comes, will surely come too late for Laurel Hester, who at 49 is in the end stages of inoperable lung and brain cancer. It is already too late for one of the plaintiffs in the marriage case, Marilyn Maneely, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease last year.